Jason Lessard and Samm Tanguay now diversifying in a crowded market
Local Journalism Initiative
In the recent wave of small new Townships’ farmers, Jason Lessard and Samm Tanguay stand out for their rapid growth and success. After just five years in business, both partners now draw more than three-quarters of their living from the farm, each doing a bit of supply teaching on the side “to make ends meet.”
Many ingredients go into the recipe for such success, but the origin of their story is what caught my attention most while interviewing them in their greenhouse last week, seedlings sprouting fresh and green while a white blizzard raged outside.
That origin was in 2016. The pair wanted to buy a house with an acre of land in Compton—with no plans to farm. Tanguay wanted to grow a garden for their own needs. That’s all. But the sale fell through. They were upset and organized a vacation to Iceland to cheer up. That trip “changed our vision of life,” Lessard said.
It was the Nordic farming and community lifestyle that appealed to them—“growing food to serve a small community,” Tanguay said.
One night in their hotel room in Hofn, they Googled how to make a living on a small farm. Saint Armand’s market gardeners Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches came up, with Fortier’s book The Market Gardener. Lessard and Tanguay immediately ordered it, so they would have it when they got home.
Three weeks later they bought their small, 12-acre farm in Sawyerville, right next to the Villagers’ Market, organized by the non-profit Jardins Communautaires de Sawyerville, for which Lessard is now treasurer and Tanguay president.
A year later, they were selling produce from their own market garden, grown on one acre of farmland, as an aerial photograph on their Web site illustrates. Sales are through community-supported agriculture (CSA) baskets, farmers’ markets, and local stores, such as the grocery store in Cookshire and depanneur in Sawyerville.
The partners are already ahead of their growth projections, with sales doubling each year—“faster than I had imagined,” said Lessard as he watered the seedlings.
Few in that recent wave of market gardeners inspired by Desroches and Fortier are likely able to speak of such happy success.
“The supply of farm products, mainly focused on the sale of fruit and vegetables, increased considerably in the last 10 years,” wrote farm consultant Alain Perras in a business plan for this reporter last year. “Some businesses paid the price: after their launch, it was difficult for them to enter a market that had begun to be saturated; they had to stop their project and pull out.”
Lessard and Tanguay agree and are adapting by diversifying and focusing on less crowded areas of the market: you-pick fruits and winter vegetable baskets.
The fruit orchard will open next year, and this year’s vegetables will be available spring, summer, and fall-winter, instead of just during the busy warm season. Already, they have all their spring vegetables reserved by customers, one-third of their summer produce sold, and half of their 2022-2023 winter baskets.
These are not farm-raised and farm-schooled members of the agricultural world. The 20-something Tanguay said his family has a dairy background in Inverness, but his parents sold the farm before any thoughts of farming could enter is mind. He was working in sales when the pair decided to change their careers.
The 30-something Lessard grew up in Ontario and was at Global Excel in Lennoxville after studying Psychology and Human Resources at Bishop’s.
He was mentored in business by an uncle in Granby and clearly developed the necessary entrepreneurial and financial smarts. For Tanguay, “all the patriarchs in my family were avid gardeners,” and both he and Lessard have the social skills and marketing savvy required of direct sales to customers—just some of those many ingredients in a small farmer’s modern recipe.
“We’re not making a lot of money,” Lessard said. “But we wanted to be rich in other ways,” Tanguay added.
Scott Stevenson farms and writes at his home in Newport, Quebec. He reports on individual Townships’ farmers biweekly for Brome County News and reviews the farm news biweekly for the Record.