Known as CAPÉ, the Coopérative pour l’agriculture de proximité écologique brings together more than 150 certified organic farms and more than a hundred other members across Québec. As its name says, it is involved in making Québec agriculture a darker green. The CAPÉ also promotes short distribution circuits and strengthens the social link with consumers. In fact, it brings together most of the Québec farms offering organic baskets within the Réseau des fermier.ère.s de famille.
Already, we can feel in their movement a link with our Fab Cities and Regions. Let’s explore, with some of their team members, how some of their other initiatives, perhaps less known to the public, fit into this vision.
- Ghislain “Gigi” Jutras,
Associate member, co-founder and project manager at CAPÉ
- Matthieu Brisset,
Producer member of CAPÉ, self-build coordinator
- Reid Allaway,
Producer member of CAPÉ, self-build coordinator
Q – First of all, if we were to try to understand the scope of CAPÉ with the organic baskets, how could we say that this consumption habit has taken root in Québec?
Gigi : The organic basket formula has taken root in the Belle Province like a rhizome in fertile soil, in other words, in a gradual and sustainable manner. From a handful of market garden farms selling in this way at the beginning of the 90’s, it is now more than 150 that are active in this way to maintain a direct synergistic link with a vast network of good eaters exceeding 60 000*. Through the dedicated and constant work of Équiterre, CAPÉ and family farmers, this form of short circuit marketing is now known and practiced from Mont-Laurier to Rocher Percé. An idea that has travelled through many regions since its origin in the land of the rising sun in the mid-1960s.
Q – Knowing that you have studied the Fab City movement, why did it pique your curiosity?
Gigi : It’s a matter of inbreeding! The CAPÉ and the Fab City movement have the same DNA, namely the genes of solidarity autonomy and mutual aid without borders. When we learned of the existence of a network of citizens motivated to produce locally while being connected to the rest of the planet, we immediately perceived common affinities, and therefore the interest in entering into a closer relationship. The connection is still in its infancy, but at the same time, it already heralds a complicity that generates promising innovations for urban and rural environments in transition. By sharing data, resources and motivating energy, we increase our chances of reaching our sustainability-oriented goals more quickly and efficiently.
The self-construction committee is a team that organizes chores to build all sorts of farm machinery, often developed by CAPÉ itself, such as mesclun spinners or even an arduino greenhouse controller, named Otomate.
Q – Can you tell us a little bit about the origin of these chores? What need does it meet, versus a collective purchase of machines?
Matt : These are initiatives by and for local ecological market gardeners. The producers themselves identify the needs for equipment or machinery that are not being met by suppliers or that are not adequately met (e.g., equipment that is too small and adapted only to hobby gardening, or too large, too expensive and adapted only to large-scale vegetable production). When possible, collective purchases are made; this is another of CAPÉ’s services. Self-construction is used when the equipment is not available on the market or when it is a product that must be imported from far away, at an exorbitant price, while everything is available locally for its manufacture. This is what pushes producers to join their efforts to develop solutions that meet the expectations of a majority of farms in the network and to meet to implement the projects. The workshops are also training events where fun abounds. It is a big plus for producers to acquire from their peers the knowledge that will allow them to repair or adapt their equipment for other needs.
Q – Why is it important for your members to innovate in terms of farm machinery and equipment?
Reid : Innovation is important to meet the needs of small and medium-sized producers whose operations are often very diversified and therefore require a variety of tools. They cannot afford to invest huge amounts of money in industrial equipment for each and every operation, but they can benefit from a model that is simpler in terms of design, manufacturing and maintenance while offering interesting performance and increased productivity compared to the more manual alternative. Farmers who have a wide range of needs to produce and sell in a short circuit often represent an unattractive market for farm equipment manufacturers. They are therefore left hungry for appropriate, accessible and efficient tools. Innovation from our members allows us to better equip those who practice a more sustainable and diversified agriculture, which goes against the market logic that only large and devastating monocultures can be managed profitably.
Q – Who develops the tools? Do you draw on initiatives and plans from Farm Hack projects?
Reid : In general, our tools come from an internal collaborative design process at CAPÉ, but we have also made several that were designed by our brothers and sisters at Atelier Paysan in France, an important source of inspiration for us. In most cases, projects arise from a common need among several of our members, a need that gives rise to prototype solutions on one or more farms. Then, if there is a strong interest in pursuing collective manufacturing, the prototypes are analyzed and optimized for mass production. They are redesigned at the end of the first edition of each workshop. For the vast majority of our projects, planning, design, drafting, shopping, training and site coordination are shared between the members of the “Self-Construction Committee” and the participating producers. It should be noted that we have had support on several occasions from two professors from the technical college with whom we have been working for several years and also from external supporters who join us for one project or another**.
Q – In terms of the intellectual property associated with these devices, how do you share it?
Reid : Our goal has always been to allow free distribution of our designs under a Creative Commons license. The problem we have with implementing this on a large scale is the lack of an informational platform that meets our sharing needs. See the website of the Atelier Paysan en France to get an idea of the scale that such a project can take. You will surely understand why we will not be able to do it without finding a grant to pay for the hours involved. For now, plans are being shared informally. Ad hoc email requests are handled by the organizing committee (especially Matt to be honest). At the same time, we are continuing to look for grants in order to take the organization to the next rung of the ladder. The hiring of a part-time coordinator and the creation of a web platform will allow for a greater outreach of our activities for the benefit of all.
Even with these challenges, I believe we are well ahead of similar efforts elsewhere in North America. When I talk about our self-build projects with producers elsewhere in Canada and the United States, they can’t believe how much we’ve accomplished. They have nothing like it, even for the most well-networked and well-connected people in sustainable agriculture. While the French people continue to stay ahead of us while encouraging us to move forward, we have already accomplished a great deal for and with the ecological producers in Québec. We are building in our network of family farmers a higher level of autonomy, efficiency, competence and satisfaction of which we can be very proud!
*The most accurate figure would be 28,000 Réseau des fermier.ère.s de famille basket subscriptions in 2020. Registrations are underway for 2021. Demand is even higher than last year. So in terms of consumers, we are definitely over 60,000.
**CAPÉ collaborates on an ad hoc basis with the École professionnelle de St-Hyacinthe and the Institut national d’agriculture biologique (INAB).