Les Jardins de la pinède closes shop

The big fans will turn off. In a few days, we will no longer hear them like the lungs of the greenhouse where Marie-Josée Daguerre runs out of steam telling her story to the Duty.

The sword of Damocles that was hovering has fallen: the Jardins de la pinède declares bankruptcy. Or rather “must declare bankruptcy”, pronounces the co-owner of the place. Without denying her share of responsibility, she blames financial institutions.

The organic farm located in Oka has been fighting for its survival for several months, its finances weighed down by a poorly evaluated greenhouse project according to Ms. Daguerre. Last Friday, “everything fell apart,” she wrote to her members. This time, the deadline has really arrived. On Sunday, the laying hens are placed with foster families. Meat, vegetables and fruits, liquidated.

What also immediately disgusts her is the great waste in preparation. Electricity will be cut off in the coming days, Hydro-Québec has already informed. Without being able to open the roof or mechanically ventilate, the temperature will rise above 40°C in the installations. As a result, “thousands” of plants, fruits and vegetables will rot or dry up.

While waiting for “a miracle”, she is now worried about this production planted and cared for with the sweat of her brow and that of her team, even though she has to move today, she who lived on the farm: “The entire team who lived on the farm found themselves on the street. Without housing, without a car, without money. »

After nine years in business, the place has become “one of the symbols of what local agriculture should be,” says M.me Daguerre. To the point where the television series Raspberry time carried out part of his filming there. To the point where, “it was the community that sounded the alarm,” she assures: “We often say that when we close a dairy farm, it’s a family that we close. Here it is a community, which we are closing. »

Financial debacle

The heart of the problem is a lack of liquidity, which has been evident since the construction of the 4-season greenhouse. Les Jardins de la pinède had obtained a loan of more than 4 million dollars, a great impetus to dream of local agriculture all year round.

By the time they were ready to build in 2021, the cost of building materials had increased so much that they had to reduce the square footage of the greenhouse. However, several larger production equipment from the initial project were acquired, in anticipation of possible expansion. The financial burden, however, proved too great.

Mismanagement ? Bad choice ? “I’m a producer, not an accountant,” replies Mme Daguerre. She considers that the support received was “outdated” and “inappropriate” for their scale: “Neither Desjardins nor Financière agricole raised a red flag [au moment de la révision]. They did not reassess the viability of the project. »

The farmer describes this greenhouse as a “white elephant” and says she is aware that the farm was not viable in the current state of affairs. Recovery plans and even buyouts have been submitted, notably to the Financière agricole du Québec (FADQ). But the producer deplores having received refusals.

Several interventions have however been carried out, but for several months, these have mainly been “conversations between lawyers”, according to her, still hoping for an “opening” from the creditors.

For its part, the office of Minister of Agriculture André Lamontagne is aware of this situation and says it is extremely sensitive. The teams received a detailed report which demonstrates great complexity, we are told, while remaining very cautious given the confidentiality of the file. La Financière assured the Lamontagne firm that several proposals were submitted in order to find a viable solution. The watchword sent by the minister to the financial institution in the current inflationary context is flexibility and support, we insist.

The Jardins de la pinède still belong in part to the former spouse of Mme Daguerre, according to the business register. However, she assures that he is no longer in the portrait.

The pine forest team was impatiently awaiting a subsidy from Hydro-Québec which would have given them a boost, she says. The farmer would have liked a repayment moratorium, which would have bought them time to replenish the coffers. It was not possible to confirm this information with the Financière at the time of writing these lines.

Workers laid off

The farm employed between 30 and 40 people depending on the time of year. Of these, several were temporary foreign workers. The majority of them had to leave empty-handed even if their contract was not completed. By Monday afternoon, only three of them remained, those who held positions with more responsibility.

Claudio Morales Escalante deplores finding himself also with his mouth in the water. “The economic situation is very difficult in Guatemala and I have to support my family,” says the production manager from this Central American country. There were two months left on this father of three’s contract.

Some of his more recently arrived colleagues take it harder. “I started sending more money to my family,” says Rudy Rairo Cun, after having reimbursed certain expenses.

They fear returning to their country of origin and having to wait several years before an opportunity to work in Quebec presents itself. “If we could find another place to work this week, we are completely ready,” said Mr. Morales Escalante, who was in his fifth year at Jardins de la pinède and his twelfth on Quebec farms.

Coming out of the greenhouses, shelves display dozens of small plants, already a little stunted. “These are pakchoi and Chinese cabbage plants. We stopped watering them. This is what awaits everything else,” says Mme Daguerre, looking down.

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