Western Harvest Gardens
From apples to carrots, lettuce to beets, rutabaga to potatoes, a variety of vegetables and so much more, Western Harvest Gardens (Western Harvest) has been passionate about farming in Quebec for four generations.
Perpetuated from father to son, Western Harvest’s roots trace back with Rene Guinois and Joe Piazza, whom created Western Harvest, as Joe Piazza was working with Rene Guinois, Ghislain and Normand’s father, in the 1970s.
The love of the land has been passed down from great-great-grandfather who started farming a plot of land north of Montreal in 1893.
From grandfather whom came to Ste Clotilde and grow into the black soil, to father and finally onto Ghislain and Normand, now president of Western Harvest and president of RGR, respectively; RGR is a local growing company tied to Western Harvest and Western Harvest acting as a U.S. distributor for the sister company. Both Ghislain and Normand are passionate and rigorous farmers and the pair continues the tradition of meeting the highest standards of produce quality and freshness.
“Ghislain’s great-great-grandfather came to Quebec from France in the late 1890s,” tells Christianne Begin, business development manager of Western Harvest. “His grandfather continued farming and he had 16 children, including five boys, one of which is Ghislain’s father.”
Ghislain’s father started his own growing business 35 years ago and when he passed away in 2008, the business carried over to his sons. “Norman now owns RGR, the main local grower side of the business,” explains Begin. “Western Harvest is now more of an exporting company, but between the two sides, we’re highly vertically integrated.”
From seed to end-user, Western Harvest and RGR have grown vertically together since inception in 1993. Based in St-Clotilde, Quebec, Western Harvest buys produce, sometimes from RGR and packs and distributes to markets all over the northeastern U.S. and beyond.
“It really depends on RGR’s volume as to how much the company sends to Western Harvest to ship,” says Begin. “Western Harvest also supports the local growers.”
Western Harvest sells to major food chains and U.S. wholesalers, as well. All in all, the two companies grow on some 1,200 acres with more than 200 employees. “Currently, we’re selling mostly fresh, storage and hardline vegetables from our growers,” notes Begin. “We sell mostly apples, cabbage, onions, carrots, white turnips, rutabagas, potatoes—hardline vegetables.”
To get produce from point A to B, Western Harvest has its own fleet. “We have a transport division of the company where we provide our own transport to better serve our customers in the retail market and all other segments,” adds Begin.
Waste not in the number-two market
While the retail aspect remains a strong focus for Western Harvest, Begin says the company has recently carved a niche in taking what would normally be left in the field and turning it into a viable customer base.
This new segment of Western Harvest not only helps distribute food to hungry people, but also gives local growers another place to provide a second-grade product. “This way we give a second life to these veggies that are still very good nutritional and edible product, sometimes the size can be off or misshapen,” explains Begin. “The food bank market is full of possibilities, not just in produce, but in supplying all kinds of commodities because it’s a growing segment.”
With this addition to Western Harvest, Begin notes the company is now busy year-round. “We used to be just seasonal for the most part, as the Quebec area grows mostly only from May until October, but this new segment addition has us working all 12 months,” she says.
Partnerships and family support
“The hope is to enhance and improve the distribution of fresh produce out of Western Harvest’s resources and technology,” adds Begin.
Forming the right partnerships has been crucial to Western Harvest’s success through the years, especially in a market that’s always changing. “The produce business is like the stock market –prices go up and down all the time and there’s always the weather that’s a huge factor,” considers Begin. “We were lucky that this year the weather wasn’t bad – potatoes, onions and cabbage were good.”
As the company’s retail business and second-grade markets continue to blossom, Western Harvest looks to the fifth generation to carry on the family tradition. “Members of the fifth generation are stepping in and we’re working on being more effective across online and social media platforms as that picks up,” Begin details.
“Our company brings a high level, of customer service overall, and this is part of our strength,” Begin details. “In our case we can say produce business is a family affair, a life style and above all at team work day after day.” Fifth-generation family companies are few and far between, but Western Harvest Gardens is holding fast to family ties, supporting food banks and is able to respond to specific needs.