Monday, 9 February 2009

Greenhouse Effect in Quebec: Local Produce Even in Winter?

A guest from France for dinner on Saturday night, so I wanted to serve a Quebec meal--tourtière de Madame Gravel de Chicoutimi, green tomato relish, some of Quebec’s excellent artisan-made cheese and as much local produce as possible. Despite the fact that it is February, the last criterion is becoming easier to meet than it used to be. Beside carrots, potatoes and onions from last summer’s harvest, before dinner we had hors d’oeuvres of Matane shrimp in hollowed-out halves of cocktail tomatoes grown in green houses by Savoura up river from Montreal. The salad was Boston lettuce, green-house grown north of the Métropole.

What I didn’t realize until this morning was how much this largesse is due to another Quebec business, Industries Harnois, which has been pioneering green house construction for three generations. Using temporary shelters to start plants early had long been a practice where the risk of frost doesn’t pass until late May, but in the last 25 years light weight, energy efficient green houses have been developed by the firm, a story in Le Devoir recounts. They’re sold not only in cold climates, but also in places like Mexico and Brazil where wind and heat are factors. Irrigation is more effective in a controlled space, for example, while the firm contends that yields are much greater and reliance on chemical fertilizers less in greenhouses. The firm has cooperated with the Université de Laval in developing one which is not heated, relies on natural ventilation and is basically a large plastic tunnel. Organic agriculture is the wave of the future, says one of the current partners, Patrice Harnois.

A different kind of greenhouse effect, for sure.

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