Hands-on learning from a market gardener

This article is the second in a series of four pieces delving into the experiences of first-year FMT students during their Agricultural Internship summer course.

Grégory Dupont stands next to a high tunnel in the market garden farm - les jardins d'arlingtonGrégory Dupont poses under a high tunnel at Les Jardins d’Arlington where he spent his summer completing an internship (photo: Jacinthe Trépanier). The following is an excerpt from a Farm Management and Technology (FMT) student's midsummer stage report for the Agricultural Internship course, highlighting the benefits of this experience and the knowledge gained.

Experiential learning is essential to developing hard and soft skills in any field. In the FMT program, hands-on training is offered through lab components in class and through a series of internships that vary in length. Students begin with two one-week long internships (“stages”) during the first year. These short-term work experiences are followed by a 13-week summer stage course between the first and second year, and a second summer-long stage between year two and three.

Students who are not originally from a farming background have much to gain from these courses. For someone who is passionate about agriculture but grew up in an urban centre, the opportunity to acquire hands-on work experience is often non-existent before coming to FMT. Limited exposure to agriculture creates an additional barrier to full comprehension of course material, definitions, and best practices when they start the program.

Grégory Dupont – Les Jardins d’Arlington

Grégory Dupont is a 23-year-old student who hails from Saint-Alexandre. While he did not grow up on a farm, Grégory developed his interest in agriculture by working on a friend’s dairy farm and spending a summer on a market garden farm. He is interested in starting up his own mixed organic enterprise in future, selling his products directly to the consumer.

Les Jardins d’Arlington, owned by Nasser Boumenna in Stanbridge East, QC was Grégory Dupont’s summer stage location. The business grows 35 different vegetables and berries. Les Jardins d’Arlington supplies over 360 CSA baskets and sells at the Atwater Market. It employs four local students and four Mexicans for the season.

This stage has allowed Grégory to improve his knowledge about organic farming. “I think that the diversity of all the products can be a good aspect to work with.... I have learned a lot about different kinds of veggies and the way they grow; some need lots of water, others don’t. Some veggies, like all the cucurbitaceous family, do not like being handled by their roots and others don’t really mind it.”

Stages also expose students to different management styles and allows them to reflect on the way they would like to manage their farms. Grégory observed, “[The owner] is an extreme perfectionist, but I understand that this is why his farm works so well.... [The stage] is, of course, rewarding. It is putting me in the hands of a boss that created his own start-up just like I want to do, so I feel like there are only positive aspects to learn from him.”

Communication is also key to a successful business, whether it is handling customers or working with staff. Grégory noted that “it is important to ask the proper questions before you head up to do the job,” to avoid making mistakes for spacing plants while seeding. “I have good leadership for my team.... My teammates are super nice and we get along well.”

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This article was originally published in the July-August 2018 issue of the QFA Advocate on the Macdonald Reports page.

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