Gabriel Choinière : The well raised Pigs of La Ferme 1194
After dreaming of travelling around the world as a diplomat, Gabriel Choinière chose to embark in an entirely different adventure when he decided to raise pigs following high ethical standards, on his family’s farm in Dunham.
“While I was studying in International Relations, I went on an exchange program that took me to Finland. The time I spent overseas made me realize how much I truly loved farming and the rural lifestyle,” explains the 25-year-old entrepreneur, “when I returned, I decided to register at L’Institut de technologie agroalimentaire of Saint-Hyacinthe and to develop my own enterprise on our family farm.”
Gabriel’s parents own a commercial orchard, but he preferred to pursue a project dear to his heart ever since he was a teenager: Raising pigs.
Gabriel explains, “Besides the orchard, we’ve always had horses, chickens and a few pigs. Every summer, from the age of 10 to 15, I would raise about a hundred chickens and four or five pigs. I would “finish” the pigs by feeding them apples from our orchard and then I would sell them to customers in the area. Three years ago, when I decided to return to the farm, I told myself this is the project I was going to develop. It’s a seasonal production, which gives me time to relax during the winter. It was important for me not to feel trapped by my enterprise.”
Another important aspect for the young farmer is the well-being of his animals, it’s central to his approach. Gabriel’s 90 Yorkshire and Duroc cross-breeds are raised outside and move about freely in a vast five-acre pasture that used to be part of the family orchard. The pigs feed on grain, grass, roots and insects they find as they forage for food in their enormous playground. They arrive from another farm near Notre-Dame-de-Stanbridge in June, when they’re seven or eight weeks old. In early September, a couple of weeks before leaving for the slaughter house, he feeds them apples, 800 pounds daily!
“They love apples,” says Gabriel. “Adding them to their diet doesn’t make the meat taste like apples, but it does, however, affect its flavour, along with all the other food the pigs eat and all the exercise they get in their great outdoor space. They even develop muscles in their neck, which they normally don’t, when they’re raised in a pigsty.”
Although Gabriel sells whole carcasses to such renowned restaurants as Foxy, Joe Beef and Hoggan & Beaufort in Montreal, his main market is very local. His customers can buy either entire or half pigs with their different parts cut, prepared, frozen and vacuum-packed by local butchers.
Gabriel emphasizes “It’s important for me to honour the whole animal.”
From Pigs to Mushrooms
In the future, Gabriel doesn’t think he will be expanding his pig production any further. He’s thinking about perhaps eventually transforming his enterprise, but for now he’s concentrating on La Pinède, his project of growing shiitake mushrooms on logs. He began this project—The old way—along with his two friends, Jérôme Boucher and Martin Gendron, both also from the area.
In the shade of the farm’s white pine plantation, under big tarps which hold
moisture inside, there are hundreds of hardwood logs —“cut by us”—, maple, oak and ironwood, that the partners inoculated three years ago and which have begun to produce mushrooms since last year.
“La Table fermière of the Brasserie Dunham is one of our clients, along with the restaurant L’Archipel, in Cowansville,” says Gabriel, “we are targeting different markets in Bromont and Granby and last summer, we participated in the Foire Bio Paysanne of Frelighsburg.”
Aside from developing new markets, the guys from La Pinède are testing other mushroom varieties such as hedgehog mushrooms. They’re thinking about also developing an indoor project. To be continued…
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