Benjamin Lachapelle - a love for farming and ground cherries
By Manfried H. Starhemberg
Toiling behind his home made plow, Benjamin Lachapelle is one of a new breed of farmers in Quebec. First of all, this 28 year old grows ground cherries, a delicious fruit of the nightshade family which is related to tomatillas and Chinese lanterns as the fruit ripens with its delicate paper envelope. Many of the local stores, the I.G.A. included, have begun to sell baskets of this fruit alongside the blueberries, strawberries and other local berry products.
Benjamin is in his first year on a few borrowed acres but in Jan Gorden, a friend who has a greenhouse next door, he has a co-conspirator who lets him use the greenhouse to start his seeds. Benjamin then transplanted his (and his friend's) small plants , by hand, to his land and planted them this spring, but now is enjoying a rich delicious crop, which he hand sorts, packages and sells to friends and stores from the back of his old pickup truck.
There is more to Benjamin. He speaks German, has actually lived there for a while, he studied various aspects of agriculture, worked on farms, also owns a 50+ acre farm on the Quebec side of the Ontario river, and currently has 300 fruit trees under cultvation at his Sutton acreage. Those trees will eventually be the big start of his "real'" farm. Meanwhile, he works at the local restaurant "LaCafetier" and when he is not doing this, he can be found farming. "I am from Sutton and would love to farm here but the land prices are impossible for a start-up small operation" he explains.
The ground cherries are very easy to grow and to a certain degree are self seeding. They have almost the same texture as firm cherry tomatoes but their slightly acidic taste evokes a flavor which could be described as a strawberry flavored pineapple. The berries are eaten raw, put in salads, make superb pies, can be used as jams and jellies and best of all, are not so exotic as to be expensive. We purchased a box of them at our local fruit and vegetable store for less than $ 3.-
In gardens, they can also be grown as an ornamental plant with the added benefit that they can be aten after the lovely lanterns have dried up.