La Maison Verte (LMV) is a not-for-profit organization that was started in 1982 by l’Association Parmis-Elles, a women’s group located in Hearst, Ontario with the mandate to create financial opportunities and promote well-being for women in the area. In 1981 the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources advertised to potential tree growers a five-year black spruce seedling contract. The Association was looking to invest in a project with greenhouses and, together with private funding, they created what was the beginning of LMV. Seventy local investors established the greenhouses with some help from government funding. They have numerous informal partnerships within the community including restaurants, local businesses, and a youth group.
History & Enterprise Development
In 1981, l’Association Parmi-Elles received Federal and Provincial assistance and found seventy local investors to support the establishment of a greenhouse to grow seedlings for reforestation. The first greenhouse was built in the fall of 1982. Production has gradually increased over the years from a contract of 2 million seedlings, to 6 million seedlings and has now reached over 9 million seedlings. Over the years, La Maison Verte has contributed greatly to the regional economy and created jobs for the community with seven full-time employees and forty seasonal employees. LMV currently employs 6 full-time employees and up to 25 part-time employees.
Products & Services
LMV’s main operations include producing vegetables and tree seedlings for its greenhouses, a sponsor food basket program, supplying the local market with tomatoes and bedding plants, and operating a gift and garden centre. LMV’s primary sector of activity is the production of tree seedlings for reforestation with a 12 million tree capacity. In addition to this, LMV supplies the local market with tomatoes and bedding plants, supplies a local youth group with green tomatoes at the end of every growing season to create and sell relish, and created a local food basket program in which individuals purchase a share/weekly basket in advance. LMV is exploring partnerships with the local Health Unit to get local food baskets to young families, single mothers, and other individuals who may be marginalized economically.
“What’s nice about La Maison Verte is that it’s still everything about community growth. It’s still about women’s involvement and opportunities for them.” – Manon Cyr, General Manager
Impacts & Outcomes
LMV currently has six full-time employees and hire approximately 20 part-time/seasonal employees from April to June. The majority of their full-time employees have been working there for between 15 to 25 years. Over the years LMV has contributed significantly to the regional economy and has created jobs that allow women to remain in their home community and raise their families there.
The original impetus for the initiative was job creation and profitability. Over time, additional objectives have been included in the initiative. These include increasing community resilience through local food production, community building, and education. LMV is exploring partnerships with the local Health Unit to get local food baskets to young families, single mothers, and other individuals who may be marginalized economically.
LMV is unique in many ways. It is owned by a not-for-profit women’s Association whose objective since the early 1980s has been to set up business ventures that create jobs for women.
Hearst is an isolated rural northern Ontario community with few employment opportunities for its local residents. LMV has provided six full-time and 20-25 seasonal jobs for last 29 years.
They are also unique in the ways in which they have diversified their operations. Given the fact that they had the infrastructure, it was relatively easy for LMV to move into local food production. They have abundant capacity to increase local food production and to explore the development/growth of additional crops.
“Over the years La Maison Verte has contributed greatly to the regional economy and created jobs for the community. We now provide employment for seven full time and forty seasonal employees.” – Manon Cyr, General Manager
LMV’s greatest success lies in the fact that in 2012, they will be celebrating their 30th year in business. Although the organization has seen many changes over the last 30 years, it has demonstrated its ability to adapt to a fluctuating and declining forest sector and to diversify its operations in order to survive.
In August 2011 LMV was on the front cover of Northern Ontario Business magazine. The new barcode system for their packaging/products has enabled them to move their products into the mainstream market. LMV was also awarded “Prix Phénix – Nord de l’Ontario” in 2002.
The greatest challenge to LMV has been the loss of 80% of their business due to the downturn in the forestry sector, which they have overcome by diversifying their operations and moving into growing food.
Transportation and distribution are significant challenges due to the nature of the geographic location of the communities and the large distances between neighbouring communities. Currently, local businesses work independently but there is a need for greater efforts to cooperate, and pool resources, so that transportation and distribution systems may be improved. Manon is interested in exploring a distribution/delivery system along the transportation corridor that could be shared among businesses in the northeastern Ontario region.
The “one-size-fits-all” approach to government regulations and policy relating to food production is another challenge faced by LMV. There are unrealistic expectations on small, local producers who do not have the same resources available to them as do large scale producers.As a result, Manon feels that the policies that affect them do not necessarily reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground.
LMV has received external funding for its initiatives over the years. Its greenhouses operate as a non-profit and if any profits are generated they are redistributed to its employees. The gift centre operates on a for-profit basis.
“LMV is exploring partnerships with the local Health Unit to get local food baskets to young families, single mothers, and other individuals who may be marginalized economically.”