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10 years ago, a dream began...

It's crazy when you think about it. A very small idea of a young man barely 20 years old who just wanted to create a summer job. This young man, he got screwed! His project would not be just a simple little project, but would quickly evolve into a life project… This story, my story, do you know it?

Year 2007

In 2007, I was studying computer science at Cégep. As I liked to say, for me, computing was a hobby. I didn't want to do my job later, but it was in this field that I studied while waiting to find what I wanted to do. It was in 2007 that my father bought the land in Pointe-Fortune in order to plan his retirement. He wanted to plant sea buckthorn to occupy his old age (phew he won't like my expression!). At that time, I had one wish: To find myself a summer job on the farm in order to stop working in downtown Montreal. 

By dint of searching and reading, I discovered beekeeping. Curious, I started reading about it. I discovered there a complex world which seemed to me very beautiful. A world worth discovering. The little spark had just arrived. I no longer wanted to make it just a summer job, but a job for life! While looking for training, I found several small training courses of a few days, but nothing up to my expectations. I wasn't going to embark on a project like that without really good training. Finally, I found a course at the Cégep d'Alma which was to start at the end of January 2008 and which lasted 1 year. There were not enough students, so the course was going to be delayed with a course start date to be determined (1 month, 6 months, 1 year, no one knew). I was really disappointed, but I was going to be patient. Finally, 2 days before the deadline to cancel our classes at Cégep, the phone rings: Beekeeping class starts February 18, next Monday! I hasten to cancel my classes at Cégep to prepare to study at Cégep d'Alma. My mother and I are leaving for Alma. A small stay of 2 days awaited us in order to find where I was going to live. Leaving for 1 year is good, but you have to live somewhere! We find a place fairly quickly. 

Year 2008 - Studies

Classes begin. We are barely 17 or 18 students. In one month, there are only about ten of us left and only 5 or 6 of us will be graduating. Many were disillusioned with what beekeeping was; Not an easy job. I still hadn't seen a bee and I still didn't know if I was allergic to these little creatures, but I knew that's what I wanted to do more than ever.

Summer 2008, first contact with bees: I did an internship with a beekeeper. Producer of bulk honey, queens and hives (baby hives that are sold to other beekeepers), this internship allowed me to learn about everything in beekeeping. Theory is good, but practice is even better! At the end of the summer, I was really hooked.

Year 2009 - Start of the project

January and February 2009, I prepare my project. I write to my Local Development Center (CLD (now called the DEV)) for help. I got a Young Entrepreneur grant. Very happy, I plan to buy 30 hives to start! Eventually, I will start with 20 hives. THE April 28, 2009, I officially register my business. On May 1, I receive my hives. From the first year, reality caught up with me. No, I will not do 40kg per hive as planned, but a meager 17kg. The bees have to build the beeswax on the frames and that takes a lot of energy and honey. The winter was not kind either. In the spring, I woke up to a sad mortality of 30% of hives. During the summer of 2010, I created new hives and increased the number to 30. This time, a little over 31kg/hive. Finally, I manage to have a little surplus of honey.

Year 2011 - Public markets

Summer 2011, start of public markets. From the start, Ferme Les Petites Écores was present in 3 markets in the region: Rigaud, Saint-Lazare and Île-Perrot. Over the years, we have done several other markets: Pointe-des-cascades, Vaudreuil-Dorion, Ville Saint-Laurent, Concordia and McGill. It has always been very important to have direct contact with you dear customers. It is for this reason that we have long favored public contracts. Already at that time, I had created several honey-based products: Cinnamon Honey, chocolate honey and honey caramel.

Year 2013 - Family business

Then, 2013 arrives, the year of BIG changes. It was in 2013 that my parents joined the business with the sea buckthorn plantation. That year, we started building the honey house. But that's not the only major change that happened in 2013. I met Hélène, my wife, who was going to join the adventure, because she too had a very specific life project. We will come back to this later.

Year 2014 - Pollination in blueberry fields

In 2014, nearly 40% of mortality… We had to buy hives to make up for our losses. It was heavy losses and it was really sad. Despite everything, I was so happy: we had a new honey house, had managed to increase our number of hives to 212 during the summer, my sweetheart by my side and, for the first time, we were offering our pollination services in the blueberry fields in Lac-Saint-Jean.

Little anecdote : we transported 120 hives to the blueberry fields over 2 evenings. Departure from Pointe-Fortune at almost 10 p.m. Loading was long and painful. We couldn't get the hives properly attached. We had to do it 3 times before everything was safe. The lack of experience was obvious... The first trip, I did it with Hélène. Made near Trois-Rivière, the gas tank was still a little more than halfway. So I decided to continue and fill up on gas once I got to La Tuque. Wow, the wrong choice! Back in Shawinigan, I noticed that my gas gauge was going down... quickly. It is after midnight. No gas station open along Route 155. It's getting... risky! I park along the road and knock on doors for gas at 1am. After more than 6-7 houses, someone finally comes to answer us. I buy her a big can of gasoline (20-30 litres) and that allowed us to get to Joliette. It cost us 138$... In short, there was less than a liter left in the truck!!! Oufff it was minus one!

Blueberry honey, we had a lot! With all the public markets and festivals we attended, we were running out of time to manage our hives. Unfortunately, this was not without consequence. The bees, having produced too much blueberry honey, blocked the queen's egg-laying space. I couldn't remove the honey quickly enough and the hives swarmed late in the season. As a result, in the spring of 2015, we found more than 50% of mortality in our hives. The dead hives were filled edge-to-edge with honey, with few bees inside. I was devastated… Still way too much mortality. It was shaping up to be a difficult year… Also in 2014, we finally started harvesting sea buckthorn. Being still little known, we had decided to transform the sea buckthorn in order to make known this fruit with a thousand and one virtues. Our first Sea Buckthorn products: Sea Buckthorn Butter and Sea Buckthorn Jelly.

Spring 2015 - Jardins Les Petites Écores

2015 marks the year Hélène started Jardins Les Petites Écores. A nice addition to the farm! Not easy to work a land where rocks are predominant. Hélène clears the gardens then prepares the “beds” on which she will grow her vegetables. She is starting to produce vegetables that will soon be certified organic. She also starts the organic vegetable baskets which are a success! I was really happy for her. 

Fall 2015 - At the end of the line

Summer 2015, I called in our beekeeping veterinarian, because some hives were showing signs of weakness and this was not normal. Autumn 2015, for our bees, things weren't going any better… The vet's visit did not allow us to find the source of the problem and the hives continued to decline. Because of this, our insurer refused to insure our hives. It was so bad, I was exhausted. At that time, I was president of the Syndicat des Apiculteurs du Québec. Overworked, I had to leave this position to devote myself mainly to my hives. That, too, hurt me. I was very attached to this union of which I was a founding member, but I was at my wit's end. The dark thoughts followed one another and I had to let go of certain things to get through. The urge to give up everything was present more than ever. I was physically strong, but mentally even answering the phone or e-mail was made too difficult. Depression? Yes I think so. I was really exhausted. I pack up the hives in November (or what's left of them) with little hope for the following spring. I tried not to think about it, but I couldn't. Each time there was severe cold, I feared even more for their well-being.

Year 2016 - When everything goes wrong.

April 2016 is finally here. I remember rushing to see them and telling myself that it was all a bad dream. But that was not the case. The carnage… the smell of dead bees was strong. The number of living and dead hives is calculated: 94% loss. Just writing that number hurts me. I couldn't give up though. I had to find a way out. We had considered two solutions: Another loan… But would we have had it? Not sure. Or social financing. In any case, I would have to find a producer to sell me hives. Normally, the hives, we reserve them in the fall or during the winter for the following spring so, with a month's notice, it was not going to be easy. 
hives

 

I contact a first beekeeper: All sold… I contact a friend who has a lot of hives. I let him know my situation. He told me to call him back the next day. When I call him back, he tells me what he has to offer me: “What would you say if I lent you 100 beehives. You give me 50 next year and 50 in two years. No charges." I didn't understand what had just happened. For me, it was much more than a “little” 100 hives: It was not going bankrupt and continuing to do what I loved. And yes, we came really close to not continuing. I will be eternally grateful to him. 

When discussing the mortalities with this producer, he submits a hypothesis on the reason for the mortalities (which I still did not know). Summer 2016, I do tests. All my hives have “tags”. In this way, we ensure an irreproachable follow-up and we succeed in confirming the source of the problem. By checking with the producer who supplied our queens, we were able to confirm that the problem was indeed the queens that came from his apiary. We always received our queens the 3rd week of June and these queens had problems. Not only with us, but with other beekeeping producers as well. This discovery allowed me to get back on my feet. Finally the light at the end of the tunnel. And that's the case. The springs of 2017, 2018 and 2019 went well! I was starting to feel better again.

Year 2017 - Agrotourism

Spring 2017 is coming, very little mortality in the hives. Finally, a beautiful summer was announced for honey, sea buckthorn, vegetables and the novelties that we were preparing for you. I talked about it a little earlier, it has always been very important to have direct contact with our customers in order to share our love for agriculture. It is for this reason that, in June 2017, we offered our first visits to the farm. If you haven't come to visit us yet, it's really worth it! 
Farm sign with old logo

Year 2018 - UPA Open Days

Spring 2018, a success! Only 10% loss in our hives (15% can be considered normal, so 10% is good!). Another big season coming up. In order to better manage our time, we have continued to reduce our presence in the public market. We were only present in Île-Perrot in 2018. In September, we had the chance to participate in the UPA open days. This beautiful day allowed 840 visitors to discover our productions and get closer to the agricultural world.

Year 2019 - Already 10 years old

2019 is already here. To close this decade, we announced that Jardins Les Petites Écores, Hélène's company, and Ferme Les Petites Écores were merging. Unity is strength! This year, 50 baskets of organic vegetables, 200 hives in production, 1,500 sea buckthorn plants, agritourism visits and unique events are offered at the farm. Yes, events. I announce it to you who have taken a little of your time to discover the history of the farm.

I want to make a special mention to the entire VS Development (DEV) team. My DEV, I love it. They have helped me since the creation of my company and, still today, they are present. Highly qualified and passionate people who do extremely professional and valuable work for the economic and social development of Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

If you are an entrepreneur, start-up or in business, in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region and you have questions, go see them. They are the best, they are there for you.  

www.developmentvs.com

Year 2019+

What does the future hold for us? We can't say, but we can guarantee you that we have several projects in the pipeline. Agriculture is not easy, we are at the mercy of nature, but oh how much we love what we do! And it's partly thanks to you, dear customers, friends and family who have been supporting us for so long. You give us the strength to always innovate more in order to offer you more. 

THANK YOU CUSTOMERS, FRIENDS, FAMILY AND WORK COLLEAGUES!

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