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The Bedrock of Quebec’s Produce Trade — Montreal Rocks

“Not only are Quebec growers extending their greenhouses, but we also have rooftop greenhouses popping up in Montreal,” Perreault says. One such facility is Lufa Farms, a 32,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse perched on the roof of a commercial building near Marché Central.

The world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse, Lufa Farms grows 40 different types of vegetables and herbs, including lettuce, tomatoes, squash, and peppers. Unfortunately, experts say only about 10 percent of commercial rooftops in Canada could safely support the weight of a greenhouse farm, so growth in this segment is somewhat limited. 

Ethnic Commodities

Thanks to the province’s increasingly diverse population, produce professionals have also noticed substantial demand for ethnic produce. Today, immigrants make up about 12 percent of the province’s total population, with some 50,000 new residents arriving annually, many from Algeria, Morocco, France, China, and Colombia.

“We have a very ethnic community here,” Perreault points out. “As a result, the retailers and wholesalers areselling more ethnic varieties.” She and Plante say the most popular ethnic items include Asian vegetables, including bok choi, Chinese cabbage, and kale.

This is backed up by a QPGA survey conducted in the summer of 2012, to determine where Quebec’s immigrants came from and the types of specialty produce they wanted to buy and eat.  Beyond confirming the popularity of ethnic vegetables, Plante says the survey’s results will help the association “find a way to support the growers who want to harvest these vegetables.”

For now, wholesalers import the vast majority of ethnic produce to fill mushrooming demand.  Yet some growers are conducting crop trials to see if these items will thrive in Quebec’s cool climate.

Les Obstacles

While Quebec produce businesses enjoy bountiful opportunities, they have also faced quite a few challenges in the past year. For one, the province’s unpredictable weather caused major issues for growers and wholesalers in the summer of 2013.

“The weather last summer was really upside-down,” Perreault says. Because of an unusually cool and soaking wet summer, crops fell way behind schedule and yields were far lower than usual. As a result, too many commodities arrived at the market at the same time, driving prices to rock-bottom levels. In June, Plante says leaf lettuce and romaine were selling for a meager $7 a case.

On top of the fluctuating summer weather, Quebec’s growers—like many of their U.S. counterparts—were contending with extreme labor shortages. “The Canadian law is changing for foreign workers, so this is causing a lot of labor problems,” Perrault explains. “There have been delays with foreign workers coming in, so there weren’t enough people working in the fields.”