Feed the planet or the community?

Julien Clot, fermenter and permaculturist. © Guillaume Vincent

My dictaphone is overheated and my pen is out of breath, but Julien Clot is tireless. On his family lands in Labelle, he holds forth about the future of food on our planet. How will humans feed themselves in 20, 30 or 40 years? And more simply, will they be able to feed themselves?

This man, who defines himself as a fermenter and permaculturist, is the founder of SymbiOse Alimenterre. In French, it’s an evocative play on words and the definition of the word symbiosis is in itself rich in teaching and orientation: “a lasting, reciprocal association between two living organisms”. What relationship does the human have with Mother Earth?

“A distant relationship,” says Julien. According to the government agency UPAQ, 42,000 Quebecers have made agriculture their trade, which is 0.5 per cent of the population of Quebec. Barely five per cent of the total surface area of Québec is zoned agricultural (gouv.quebec). In France, it’s 52 per cent and in the United States, 45 per cent (World Bank).

A poor kind of production

What’s more, the energy efficiency to produce food has greatly diminished. In 1940, one fossil fuel calorie produced 2.4 food calories. Today it takes seven to 10 fossil calories to produce one food calorie and as much as 20 calories expended in hydrology for one food calorie (M. Dufumier, research agronomist).

“We produce in an industrial manner to feed the masses,” Julien continues. “Without access to oil, we couldn’t allow that. People feed themselves without being concerned about their food. We have enough calories for the day and it isn’t expensive. If we get sick, there’s pharmacology. Without mentioning other consequences such as the reduction in biodiversity, erosion, the loss of soil fertility and the overflow of fertilizer into watercourses.”

Julien Clot and his family-farm colleagues in the region believe we have to rethink food production on a human scale: feed the community rather than the masses. To achieve that, people have to be taught to re-appropriate the ability to produce and to participate in the generation of their food. That’s the way he defines food independence.

Celebrating kimchi

Given this, what role does kimchi play in this discussion? It’s a traditional Korean food made from cabbage, peppers, carrots and white radish, lactofermented for a few weeks in brine. The fermentation is a mode of conservation, but it’s also a process that produces vitamins and beneficial bacteria for the digestive system and the immune system. To describe it, it’s often referred to as a living food. It can be eaten on a burger, in a salad, with rice….

For some years now, at the end of harvest time in October, the members of the Upper Laurentians community are invited to the farm to chat, make connections, and above all, participate in the production of kimchi. Each person chooses their work station: cutting vegetables, chopping, adding salt, mixing…. During lunch break, Julien gives a theoretical presentation on the principles of fermentation. At the end of the day, each participant is paid in kind and receives one pot of kimchi per hour worked.

This educational and fun-filled activity interests both parents and children and gives them the urge to start a garden. It’s a step towards food independence, local production and consumption, and all at a reduced energy cost and with practices that regenerate the soil. For Julien, it’s about a regenerative economy; from isolation to community; from consumption to production. Kimchi is a way of learning and a symbol: fermentation between humans and the earth that feeds them.


More from this author by clicking on his photo below.

Daniel Gauvreau


Daniel Gauvreau80 Posts

Récréologue et journaliste de formation, tour à tour organisateur, formateur, consultant, chroniqueur et traducteur dans le milieu du plein air, Daniel Gauvreau est passionné d’activité physique en extérieur. De retour d’un périple au Québec et en France, il a choisi les Hautes-Laurentides pour satisfaire son amour de la nature. Semi-retraité, moniteur de ski de fond à SFMT, son expérience profite désormais aux lecteurs de Tremblant Express. Recreation professional and journalist by education, organizer, trainer, consultant, columnist and translator about the outdoors by experience, Daniel Gavreau is passionate about physical activity outside. Following a trip through Québec and France, he chose the Hautes-Laurentides as the place to satisfy his love of nature. Semi-retired and teaching cross-country skiing with SFMT, he now offers his experience to Tremblant Express readers.


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