Ferme du Haut-Vallon : A True Family Affair
I received quite a welcome when I arrived at the Ferme du Haut-Vallon, located in Frelighsburg, at the foot of Mount Pinacle. The farm dog announced my arrival, and, as I was about to knock on the door, two very affectionate cats started purring as they settled around my feet. As for the sheep, they just continued to quietly graze on one of the 125 acres of the domain.
Denise Bélanger opens the door for me and offers to sit outside at the picnic table which overlooks the magnificent English-style garden behind the house. From here, I have a splendid view of the beautiful farm buildings which date back to 1837. They’ve been renovated, but they’ve kept their olden-day charm. Her daughter, Jasmine, joins us.
You must understand that the Ferme du Haut-Vallon has become a family project today. Denise Bélanger and Pierre Jobin launched their farm in 2005; and since 2013, their daughter Jasmine has been part of the team. Between two trips, their son Nicholas helps out as well.
“My husband was born here. He grew up in a local family orchard enterprise. As for me, I teach at the University of Montreal’s Faculté de médecine vétérinaire, in Saint-Hyacinthe. Before retiring, we wanted to change our own lifestyle and offer our children a better way of life.” Denise explains. This is why they left Mont-Saint-Hilaire, thirteen years ago, to buy a farm in Frelighsburg.
The Bélanger family now produces apples, raspberries, certified organic garlic, apple juice and sparkling, and maple syrup. They also raise range-fed lambs.
The Call of the Farm
When she started, Jasmine didn’t think that her parents’ farm would become her life project, but fate decided otherwise!
“I was 15 years old when my parents bought the property. I studied Political Science at the University of Montreal, but every weekend I would come back home. While I was completing my master’s thesis—on supply management—I was living in Ontario; So, I couldn’t come back as often,” she explains. “That’s when I realized that I missed it more than I thought I would. So, after I finished my master’s degree, I decided to move back and spend four seasons on the farm to see if it was really for me. Finally, I never questioned myself again, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Jasmine lives in the apartment above her parents’ home, which is bi-generational. Although Denise and Pierre are still very much involved in the farm, and have not yet retired, the young woman has taken on more and more responsibilities, to everyone’s satisfaction.
“We’re proceeding with a progressive transfer of responsibilities so that within the next five years I’ll be making all the decisions concerning the farm. I’m already in charge of the accounting and our collective marketing system,” explains this dynamic farmer. “I’m the farm delegate for all the meetings we must attend. I’m also Director of the Producteurs des Bio Locaux, a local organic producers’ association.”
Bio Locaux (organic and local) is a group of certified organic farms that offer their products using a subscription format during both the summer and winter seasons. They occupy a stand at different farmers’ markets throughout the summer as well. The products of the Ferme du Haut-Vallon are also available at certain points of sale in the Brome-Missisquoi region, and, of course, at their self-serve stand on the farm. However, to purchase their lamb products, you’ll have to contact the farm directly to reserve because they disappear quickly.
Finally, if today the Ferme Haut Vallon is truly a family affair, it’s in part because of the entire Bélanger-Jobin family, their friends, but also many people inside the community who participate in their success. They come here to help out during different strategic moments throughout the year.
“For example, during the sugaring season, we drill 1,000 tap holes in the traditional way, with a spout and a bucket. The maple sap is boiled over a wood fire. We need help for all these operations. However, we have a lot of fun while we’re working. In the evening, we prepare big suppers for everyone. This cooperation is part of your business strategy because if we had to hire 10 people for each rush period, it just wouldn’t work,” confides Denise. “This is how things used to work in the past, cooperating as a family, between friends and neighbours.”