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July 2020 Newsletter

July 4 2020 | 8 min read

This month, as part of my Made in Manitoba summer highlights, I would like to introduce you to St. Léon Gardens, a small family operated market garden nestled in St. Boniface.

The Individuals
Meet Denis Rémillard and his wife Lise Mulaire

St. Léon Gardens

Denis Rémillard with his wife Lise Mulaire, started off with a small dream of making Manitoba produce easily available to the masses at a reasonable cost. With not much more than a strong back and love of horticulture, Denis started his beginnings in St-Léon in 1979, where he and Lise began a small vegetable farming operation. With a tiny trailer, they drove into Winnipeg where they marketed their crops to buyers. As the small farm grew, so did their need for labourers. Denis and Lise hired youth in the St-Léon area to help tend to and harvest the produce. It turned out that hiring the youth not only assisted the farm but assisted the youth as well. Denis and his wife were perfect for this role, and it became a beautiful working relationship. They were able to teach the children of the community how to nurture and grow young plants, and in return were able to produce the volume required in order to make this business work.

St-Léon experienced a drought in 1979, which along with the general hardship of maintaining a small-scale family farm, the couple felt the need to sell their land and equipment. However, it turns out their dream did not end there. The couple’s passion was enough to start a tiny market. This is what is now known as St-Léon Gardens today.

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Colin, who is now part owner along with his siblings, Luc and Janelle, and his older cousin Daniel.

Luella: If you remove all monetary rewards, what drives you out of bed in the morning?

Colin: Our purpose and passion is to make local food available to Winnipeg and the surrounding areas. We want to provide the opportunity for consumers to buy the freshest produce within a certain cost threshold.

Luella: What does a typical day look like for you/your family?

Colin: No day is typical! However, as owners we all have our roles, which allows the business to run surprisingly well. My role is in marketing, Luc is in charge of liaising with local producers, Daniel takes care of wholesale, and Janelle is in charge of staff and scheduling shifts. None of the roles are easy, and it is a combination of office work and on-your-feet-inside-the-market work. To be honest, the days just fly by…

Luella: It is incredible how the humble beginning of throwing some seeds in the soil in the surrounding community of St. Léon has now turned into the bustling and busy market we see today. What do you think is the source of success?

Colin: Honestly, it is a team effort. We have great staff. It is a true staff and family team effort. My Dad has always gained so much fulfillment in demonstrating and teaching youth how to work; work with plants, but also work as a team. He somehow has a real knack at teaching youth a strong work ethic. He believes teaching is through observation and demonstrating. The staff sees us working hard every day, which in turn makes them strive to do the same. It is poetry in motion and it just works.

Luella: Everyone in business knows that it is never a cakewalk. There is a lot of hard work done behind the scenes, especially as a start-up in terms of risk, but the hard work never really ends, does it? How do you incorporate rest amidst this craziness?

Colin: To be honest, it is pretty hard. We know that from Spring to Fall it is going to be busy. However, just like any farmer, we know there is the winter season which brings rest and we re-group. It is still busy (especially now that we have the online store) but it is nothing like now. It wouldn’t be healthy to continue like this all throughout the year, but just knowing that there is a time to work, and then a time for play, makes it much easier to keep the pace we do today.

Luella: You are in the business of pleasing consumers. This is not always easy. How do you handle a difficult customer?

Colin: We seem to have very few! We start by listening to them, then we try to solve the problem in a way we both feel is fair. Most of the time, it is just simply replacing the product that they feel is unsatisfactory. It is a balance between logistics and empathy.

Luella: There is a lot of negativity surrounding working with family or owning a family business mainly due to disagreements. How have you navigated this challenge?

Colin: I think we respect our roles and we play fair. We listen to each other’s opinion or point of view, and sometimes we need to use a democratic approach and vote. When this happens it is honestly rarely divided, more like 3-1, but if it was divided, we normally come to a compromise of some sorts. We try to look ahead at the big picture, rather than stake our ground and have no movement to change.

Luella: So, where are mom and dad now? I doubt that they are absent from all of this.

Colin: Oh no, definitely not. Mom still takes care of the accounting and bookkeeping. Dad now has his ‘urban garden’ to play in. He is removed, but not really. Again, this works. He respects us kids to handle the business but is still there if we should choose to ask for help or his opinion on some decisions.

Luella: Who is your most admired Manitoban?

Colin: That is an easy one. My parents. They have taught us so much about proper work ethics, how to handle conflicts, relationships, and of course our moral values, which we are allso grateful for. They have shown us that working is not about the money, it is about giving. We are doing what we love; it is both challenging but effortless at the same time. It comes down to the whole shopping experience, a sale doesn’t equal money.

They have taught us that smiles are contagious. The more we smile; the more people smile around us. It is obvious to me how connection is so important. Everything to the cadence of our voice, to our body language and manner, to just taking a few minutes to have a conversation with a customer, makes such a difference in our day – and in their day. I especially see this with the elderly population. It might be the only connection they had that day.

Smiles are contagious. The more we smile; the more people smile around us. via @luellajonk

Well, another great story.

I love stories. I love to tell a story and I love to hear them in my room. What really came clear for me when speaking with Colin was the aspect of teamwork and respect. Taking time to talk to a customer and focusing on the experience and not the sale. Offering nutritious wholesome food to the public; how action speaks louder than words (showing by doing, not telling); taking the winter season to slow down, rest and recharge, constant movement (in this heat I might add!) by getting inside the market, and not only sitting behind a desk.

They hit all 5 lifestyle factors I suggest for optimal emotional health:

  • Stress
  • Sleep
  • Movement/Exercise
  • Relationships/Community
  • and of course Nutrition!

If any of you are slightly confused as to why I am telling you these stories, it is because I need to stress that your mind is not disconnected from the rest of the body. Your lifestyle is a reflection of your mind and health of your brain. We need to nurture and invest in all 5 of these lifestyle factors to be emotionally healthy and striving individuals. I am providing you with strategies you can start building on slowly to make change happen.

Want to get a taste of the upbeat energy of the market? Colin provided me with a funky family 🎵favorite, which I personally loved! Maybe even dance to the light of the moon!

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Luella Jonk Counselling

305 Kingston Crescent, Winnipeg
Manitoba R2M 0T5 Canada

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