Dreaming big with Michel Merleau
Michel Merleau, the co-owner of Verger Merleau, has always wanted to manage an orchard. What started as a retirement project has gradually grown into a promising family business. Today, Verger Merleau is the only working orchard in the Vallée-de-la-Gatineau, and the septuagenarian can proudly say, “Mission accomplished”!
Back to his roots
Why did he choose the Outaouais to plant an orchard?
“It’s pretty simple: I came home! I bought a piece of land in 1987—and a house—and my retirement plan was to start an orchard on my property.”
Michel was raised in Bouchette, and although he spent his working life in the greater Montréal area, he always knew he would return to his native region one day. It was only a matter of time!
Developing the Vallée
According to Michel, the Vallée-de-la-Gatineau’s favourable geographic location, near Abitibi and the Upper Laurentians, as well as the possibilities for diversifying production, give the region great potential.
“Ottawa is close. It’s a 90-minute drive from here and it has a population of 1.5 million. It’s a big village! It’s a golden opportunity for us, for the region,” says Michel. “The entire northern Outaouais region is crossed by Route 117, the Trans-Canada Highway. People can easily stop to pick up supplies and then get back on the road.”
However, in order for the region to continue its development, he emphasizes how important it is for the various stakeholders to work together in order to increase local expertise.
And Verger Merleau is a perfect example of this principle! The jellies are made by Marc Gervais of L’Huile d’Olive restaurant, the labels for the bottles are printed in Maniwaki, and the bottles come from a supplier near Mont-Laurier, as it was the closest supplier.
The next generation: a vector for development
“The [Vallée-de-la-Gatineau’s] potential is being developed as young people settle in the area.”
One example is Michel’s neighbour Chantale, a young professional. She decided to settle in the Vallée-de-la-Gatineau, to farm and to start an orchard as well. Rather than seeing her as competition, Michel lends her his equipment and machinery when she needs it, and Chantale reciprocates by lending a hand when Michel needs help.
When asked if he feels like a mentor, Michel wisely replies, “Not really. Young people have knowledge and drive that I don’t. I think it’s great; I’d describe it more as a complementarity.”
And we should mention Michel’s son Julien, who is a lawyer and co-owner of the orchard. That’s an interesting succession to ensure the longevity of Verger Merleau!
In conclusion, Michel reminds us of the formula for a winning succession: capital to invest, enthusiasm, and above all … dreams! “Often, people in the region forget to dream. I’d like to consider myself part of the next generation, but I’m 75 years old, so I can’t really … But I can keep dreaming!”
If there’s one message we can take away from our meeting with Michel, it’s that we must never forget to dream big for the region, but also to stick together. Our region is beautiful—follow your dream!
Discover more inspiring profiles on our Ambassadors page!