We are at the Marcel Goguen Farm in Cocagne at 11 am to meet Bernadette for a final time before press. Bernadette is not here. Marcel is working in the barn at the very top and must climb down two or three ladders to get to us. We haven’t met him before and we’re not sure if he’s annoyed at us for interrupting his work but it’s soon apparent that it’s important to him that he find out if she’s coming.
Apparently she is across the river at a meeting of Terroir Foods and Agrimarketing (TFA), a year old La Récolte de Chez Nous project Bernadette is involved in. The meeting has gone over and despite several calls to her cell, Marcel just gets some clicking on the phone and then it cuts out. He’s determined to get hold of her. We don’t want to take him away from his farm work but he insists he’s going over to get her and tells us he has to change vehicles anyway since she has the pickup.
Finally, we convince him it’s not a problem and that we’ll go for lunch and she can call us when she gets back.
Meanwhile their daughter pulls into the dooryard and she, too, seems anxious to assure us if we had an appointment for eleven then Bernadette must be on her way. Right then we see a pickup pulling off the road into the driveway at the bottom of the hill. Everybody seems relieved. When Bernadette arrives she apologizes for being late more than makes us comfortable because we know she also has lots of work to do.
As she leads us to the house she mentions off hand that “the kitchen is a mess” (which it turns out really is a mess) but there is none of the concern like there was about being late for our meeting and during the interview we get a sense of her priorities and why everyone around her knew making our meeting was important to her. Near the top of the list is being reliable. “If I say I am going to do something, then I do it.” Her not being there to meet us really was a big deal to her.
A few endeavors
What we wanted to get from this last meeting was a clear idea of all the things she was involved in. We had casually asked Marcel while we were waiting for Bernadette, but apparently it was a perplexing question for him. We may as well have asked How many leaves are in the orchard right now?
Even after an hour of interviewing her, we were still not sure of the extent of her involvement in the community – we suspect she wasn’t either – but we had covered the big ones.
The Cocagne Gang
There was her ten years at the 15 year-old Groupe de développement durable du Pays de Cocagne (GDDPC) — an intimidatingly long Francophone name destined to be shortened to something silly by Anglophones, like The Cocagne Gang. It’s an umbrella group for many past and ongoing projects and programs concerned with the Cocagne River Watershed.
One project intriguing to her is the green funeral project which, if she has her way, has her destined to be buried in cardboard box, sans toxic chemicals, and sans anything else that can’t be composted back to nature as quickly as possible. “We have a meeting coming up and have 30 people interested in coming,” she says.
Then there is the Transition Cocagne program. “Cocagne is the first official Francophone one in the country,” she says, obviously proud of the how forward thinking her community is. The Transition Town concept came out of initiatives in the U.K. Basically, it is about increasing self-sufficiency for when the oil gives out, when the Internent collapses, and when the four New Brunswick seasons become one long summer. But it’s really about a lack of complacency. They try to answer questions like: How would we feed our community?
The food hub
But the really big project right now is the Terroir Foods and Agrimarketing or the TFA food hub set up by the farm cooperative La Récolte de Chez Nous. The food hub’s goal is for local farmers to supply food to all the schools in the Francophone Sud and possibly Anglophone East districts. They would also like to supply any other organization or business that wants good local food.
This project is vital to the co-op as an entity and to the ideals of the food movement generally, namely because it means good food for children and supporting local farming and all the good things that come out of that. “It has the potential to be a key player,” she says. “It is the most important thing I’m working on now because it’s going to create jobs. It’s going to create awareness about local food. I can market my stuff and my neighbour’s stuff through CSAs through the TFA. It’s a way to promote and keep our lands in production and interest young people into farming.”
This project is getting a lot of her energy because it matters. In fact, she gave up her board involvement in La Récolte to be on the food hub board. If it succeeds then it means work for local farmers, possibly more farmers coming into the system and saving yet more farmland.
It was a nearby farm being turned into a gravel pit that got her going many years ago. “All of that (topsoil) pulled out and sent into town to grow lawns, topsoil being stripped from land that could produce food,” she says, which to her is a travesty that should move anyone to action. “I’ve been worried about this stuff way, way, way before it was the style.”
Authors and Photographers
Elaine Mandrona — Originally from Connecticut, Elaine came to New Brunswick as a back-to-the-lander in the early seventies. She now has a group called City Farming Adventures that promotes intergenerational gardening projects with a strong component of art. She came to Moncton in 2005.