Les cultures de chez nous : a succes story
In the very heartland of Quebec sits the charming village of Sainte-Brigitte-des-Saults, just 24 kilometres from Drummondville, where Michelle Rajotte and Louis-Marie Jutras have run Les Cultures de chez nous for 26 years. With annual sales reaching $3 M, this family-run business is now the largest leek producer in Quebec.
Back to the land
Their great love of nature and their deepest wish to raise their family in the country prompted Michelle and her husband Louis-Marie—who were anything but entrepreneur-material—to go back to the land in 1978. A secretary and a cartographer, these hobby farmers, growing garlic and asparagus, nonetheless founded Les Cultures de chez nous three years later, acquiring new land in the process to cultivate their passion.
Today, the company produces and markets leeks, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, soy, corn, grains, and this year will add blueberries to their list of crops. Les Cultures de chez nous farms 600 acres and employs over twenty full-time workers, adding thirty seasonal workers during peak season.
Innovation and marketing
Les Cultures de chez nous is a Quebec leader in leek production and marketing. Indeed, 85 acres are devoted annually to the production of about three million leek plants. Specializing in sliced leeks and European leeks, the company imports them from Europe during the winter months to ensure an ongoing supply throughout the year.
For Michelle Rajotte, it is essential for the business to continue encouraging consumers to include leek in their weekly menu. “Since 2000, we have invested a great deal in marketing, and we’re trying to introduce a new food into the average Quebecker’s diet. Our sliced leeks are gaining in popularity; they add a unique fresh flavour, without the bother of cleaning and preparation.” Though still overlooked by many, the leek is slowly but surely carving out its place, particularly among our greatest chefs and in recipes published in magazines.
A state-of-the-art operation
The company has chosen to maintain control over the entire production chain, opting for integrated management from field to market. Les Cultures de chez nous now relies on a fully equipped infrastructure for preparing, drying and packaging its products. In particular, it has developed expertise in the packaging of asparagus—a first for Quebec! Thanks to a grouping of 12 Quebec producers, Les Cultures de chez nous will package and market 350,000 pounds of asparagus—just this year! Eighty percent of this production will be packaged this spring alone. The process improves the preservation of asparagus, and also makes it easer to clean and identify the product.
The company can also rely on a team of experienced partners to develop its communications tools and strategies.
Michelle Rajotte is well aware of the importance of maintaining healthy soils and helping to preserve the environment, and she favours a global approach to reducing the use of chemical products. “We have opted for integrated pest management, a method that respects the environment and the balance of the soils. We minimize the use of fertilizers and insecticides. We also use compost made from crop residues and manure, which gives our land its rich organic matter.” She points out that responsible land management can not only increase product quality, but also guarantee sustainable farming for generations to come.
Les Cultures de chez nous has been mainly serving food chains, hotels, restaurants and fast-food processors, but is now being wooed by other markets. The businesswoman and company spokesperson says that discussions are currently underway and could lead to new agreements, particularly with the Canadian Atlantic and California markets.
The secret behind the company’s success? First and foremost, a passion for farming and the desire to take on new challenges, says Louis-Marie Jutras. “Both of us are movers and shakers, and we love a challenge. We’ve been lucky enough to work in the field of our choosing and, more importantly, to live out our passion for farming every day.”
Despite the leek’s improving commercial position, the company intends to continue marketing the product to make it better known to consumers. “There’s still a lot of ground to be covered before our products reach their full notoriety. This is an objective we intend to reach in the next few years, slowly but surely,” points out Mr. Jutras.
The couple is pleased with their company’s constant progress, and they can also count on their three children to take over the operation and ensure the business continues to thrive. The eldest, Valérie, 25, is already a partner in the company, while Alexis and Antoine are both agriculture students preparing to take on responsibilities within the team. “We are happy to transfer our knowledge and experience to our children. It’s really our most valuable legacy.”