An independent grocery market aiming to beat chain prices and support farmers and small businesses in Quebec is coming to the University Centre at the end of August.
Les Fermes du Marché, the brainchild of McGill graduate Maude Laroche, BA ‘23, will sell everyday items, including fruit, vegetables, and bread, for less than $4. McGill students will also receive a 10 per cent discount, according to its founder.
The store, dubbed “The Student Market Project,” will be located on the first floor in room 18 and open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday. The University Centre will be Laroche and her team’s first physical location after starting Les Fermes du Marché as an online farmers’ market in 2022.
“Don’t fear for affordability, we are really concerned with that [….] My goal is to be cheaper than IGA and Provigo all the time,” Laroche said in an interview with The Tribune.
While most products will be sourced directly in Quebec from local farmers and food producers, they plan to also source internationally to expand their product range. However, Laroche stressed that they will try to support Quebec businesses by preparing and packaging internationally-sourced products in Quebec once they arrive.
Another priority for Laroche is minimizing waste. An initiative they are looking into is pre-ordered weekly grocery boxes, which would allow them to order a predetermined amount of food stock.
“I don’t want to be food wasting […] Because food, first off, is expensive,” Laroche said. “Second, all the money I’m spending on this waste, I do not spend on stuff for the store or to give back to the community [….] The lower my food waste, the better my pricing.”
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) vice-president (VP) Operations and Sustainability Hassanatou Koulibaly affirmed SSMU’s support for Laroche and her team in a written statement to The Tribune. She explained Les Fermes du Marché will occupy the space short-term and that the SSMU team will review whether it aligns with students’ interests.
“[Laroche] will be offering products for students that are healthy, locally sourced, and with decent price points,” Koulibaly wrote. “We hope that this pop-up will go very successfully for Maude and her team but mostly for our student base.”
According to Koulibaly, who was also the SSMU VP Student Life during the 2022-2023 school year, SSMU has more food-related projects in the pipeline, but she has not responded to further questions for more details.
The opening of Les Fermes du Marché comes after food inflation last November reached the highest levels since 1981. In tandem with increasing city rents, it has had a disproportionate impact on students’ cost of living, prompting an uptick in student initiatives, from Let’s Eat McGill’s protests to higher demand for Midnight Kitchen’s free meals on Thursdays.
For twenty-two year-old Laroche, who coined the name Les Fermes du Marché while searching online name generators, the campus drive to improve food security and sustainability is timely. Coming from a family of farmers and entrepreneurs, she has always been passionate about agricultural development.
“I came up with this idea because I wanted to increase food security first,” Laroche said. “Secondly, I wanted to create something that’s easy to access for people. [And] I want to have quality products.”
At McGill, Laroche studied geography and international development studies and graduated in Winter 2023. During her time, she took agricultural courses from Caroline Begg, a Faculty Lecturer in the Department of Plant Science. This included Begg’s internship course AGRI 310, in which students produce a research paper or do a hands-on project.
“For Maude’s internship she worked at Ecole-O-Champ, which is an organization that helps educate children on agriculture, the environment, and nutrition,” Begg wrote in an email to The Tribune. “Maude was able to interact with agricultural producers and give […] education modules to various children.”
The first day of business will be on Aug. 29, and they will also kick off the store’s opening with a launch party on Aug. 30. Laroche hopes that the store’s opening will be the first of many in universities and across Quebec.