Capitalism with a human face

At the co-op Jardins du Pied de Céleri, self-discipline is an
important concept. Everyone sets their own schedule around
their needs.

Étienne Gosselin, agr., M.Sc.

Job titles on paper, but no real boss. How do the 7 members of multi-stakeholder co-op Jardins du Pied de Céleri make sure they all have equal power?

A grey November morning, Route 202, Dunham. Maxime Girouard-Lapointe and Fénix Jetté are busy building big hemlock doors on their new multi-purpose building that will be used as a warehouse, workshop and vegetable-cleaning room. And an office as well--that's where the business's day-to-day operations and destiny are discussed. 

What is a collective enterprise? 

They're companies that put people first, before money, profits and "wild capitalism." These collectively owned businesses can be cooperatives, not-for-profits or even corporations, as long as decision-making power is shared.

How does a business without a boss work? "That's the kind of question we ask ourselves," says Maxime, officially captain of the ship.

Because yes, there are official titles at Pied de Céleri: the president must make a decision in the case of a tie vote. But in practice, there is no voting at board meetings.

"We seek unanimous consent!" jokes Fénix Jetté, who worked on 2 organic produce farms before landing on the sandy beaches of Dunham, lands under lease belonging to the town's bread baker, Bernard Bélanger, a supporting member of the cooperative.

A different way of running a business

The main strategic priorities are discussed in the annual general meeting and regular board meetings, but each person is responsible for their sector of activity--greenhouse seedlings, pest control, rotations planning, correspondence with subscribers, accounting and so on. 

"The problem with management that's too participative is that you want everyone to know everything," admits Girouard-Lapointe. "It can take a long time to make decisions, but on the other hand, it gives you time to do your homework and call 3 suppliers, for example."

It definitely takes strong management to produce 40 varieties of vegetables and herbs, deliver 190 weekly baskets to 3 distribution points (Brossard, Cowansville and Dunham) and offer them via farm stand, grocery store and farmer's market. And to also turn a profit at the end of the year, despite being a start-up (3rd growing season in 2015). "We all have our different personalities and work patterns, and we have to respect that. It's not just about making money," says Girouard-Lapointe.

The million-dollar question: are you capitalists? 

Girouard-Lapointe skillfully responds: "It's capitalism with a human face. We didn't take a vow of poverty and the organic farms in the area support one another. That's definitely the case with Les Jardins de Tessa, where we all knew one another before starting our own farm."

"There's not just one boss here, there are 4: Rachel, who started the project, Anne-Sophie, Fénix and me," says Girouard-Lapointe. 

Self-discipline is an important concept here. Everyone sets their own schedule around their needs. As long as objectives set in the off-season are met, that's all that matters in the end.

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