It’s a concept that developed in France approximately four decades ago, before being adopted in Quebec in the 1990s. Now “terroir” is being practised in Saskatchewan.
This unique approach to farming counters some of the negative effects that large, commodity-based markets have created in the agricultural sector.
Defined literally as “the taste of place,” the wider definition of terroir involves interaction between people and their environment to create foods of specific flavours with a distinctive cultural knowledge and practice.
Josée Bourgoin, a bison farmer from the Prince Albert, Sask. area, spearheaded the terroir movement in Saskatchewan, along with L’Assemblée Communicautaire Fransaskoise and L’Institute Franais of the University of Regina. A pilot project in the Batoche Region beginning in 2008 marked the introduction of the regional growth initiative. Bourgoin has spent the last four years spreading the word about the benefits of developing agribusinesses that have a story and are interconnected with other businesses and attractions in a region.
“We need to stop thinking of agriculture as just selling a commodity because if we do, we’re not part of the food chain,” said Bourgoin.
Using a chicken as an example, Bourgoin explained that a whole local economy can be created around one product. The chicken can be raised using specialized practices, like organic feeding, and that chicken, which will have developed a very specific flavour, can be served in local restaurants. Those restaurants can act as tourism destinations and may even partner
with artists and entrepreneurs to attract more people to the region. Consumers are then attracted to an area for its specialty chicken, while spending dollars there to support the whole economy.
The main focus of the terroir concept is to increase regional pride, recognize cultural identity, grow agribusinesses, create agricultural jobs and promote regional collaboration.
“Terroir is the bridge that links a specific product to a collective approach or collaboration,” said the terroir development and interpretation co-ordinator. “Collectively, a region profits and shares the prosperity while each person still enjoys the quality of rural living.”
With some elements of the 100-mile diet concept in it, terroir encourages people to source out food products in their local
communities and take a regional approach to food consumption.
“You can support your local economy and decrease your carbon footprint all at the same time.”
Bourgoin said terroir is an approach whose time has come, considering that travellers are increasingly interested in the story behind the attractions they’re visiting. Using an example of an apple orchard in Waldheim, Sask., Bourgoin said people will visit to pick fresh apples, drink apple juice, eat dried apples and take home a bottle of apple cider vinegar. This all creates value-added opportunities for farmers.
“It gives people the opportunity to stop and savour what they’re tasting instead of comparing it to what they get at the grocery store — they get to enjoy the product, and the story of how it was made.”
Bourgoin said Saskatchewan’s trading partners are increasingly interested in value-added products and consumers are seeking new authentic foods.
“When you look at terroir, it automatically gives off a feeling that the products are quality ones and food safety is built in because people generally have a very high confidence in Saskatchewan products.”
The cultural component is also key in the terroir concept, with Bourgoin explaining that Saskatchewan’s ethnic diversity makes it the perfect place for terroir to flourish.
“You can travel the world in your own backyard when you think of all the cultural traditions we have from Métis to Ukrainian, Polish, First Nations and so on. It’s like touching the whole world, but at arm’s length.”
By applying the idea of terroir to regional economies, Bourgoin believes competition between producers and communities will disappear, allowing for a collaborative approach where everyone wins both economically and socially.
“The most important thing about these projects is that it has an ambassadorship element where you tell people to stop in the next town at the coffee shop and they promote what you have to offer.”
For more information on terroir, call 306-764-5554.
— JOSE BOURGOIN
“We need to stop thinking of agriculture as just selling a commodity because if we do, we’re not part of the food chain.”