Community rallies around local farmer whose husband died suddenly

Following the death of Chantale Gagnon's husband, community members are planning to work in shifts to help harvest her vegetables.

Farmers’ market vendors donating profits, time and labour to support widow

Many vendors at the weekly farmers' market in Lac-Mégantic are donating their profits to an area widow after the unexpected death of her husband. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Vendors and patrons of the Lac-Mégantic farmers' market are coming together to help a local widow with her crops following the sudden death of her husband.

Jocelyn Debaque died July 28 after he was hit by a car while out cycling near his farm in Stratford, Que., about 40 kilometres northwest of Lac-Mégantic.

In the week since, the community has stepped up to support his widow Chantale Gagnon.

Community members are planning to work in shifts to help Gagnon harvest her vegetables, a feat that will take weeks.

There are about a dozen volunteers already at work in the fields, with more on the way.

"She would do it for us," said Pierre Beaudoin, vice-president of the market, who has known Gagnon since she and Debaque moved to the area.

Anne-Josée Paradis is president of the Lac-Mégantic Farmers' Market and has spearheaded fundraising efforts for local farmer Chantale Gagnon. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Gagnon and Debaque opened their vegetable farm in Stratford in 2015.

They grow more than 50 different kinds of vegetables, opting to do most of the work by hand — with the help of a few donkeys — using minimal farming equipment.

Most of the vendors from Saturday's market also donated their profits outright to Gagnon, and market organizers put out a donation box.

Money made from the market's weekly hot lunch was also given to Gagnon. Several patrons said they made a point of attending Saturday's meal as a show of solidarity.  

"The generosity has had momentum, and I'm happy to see that recognized," said Anne-Josée Paradis, president of the Lac-Mégantic farmers' market, and a close friend of Gagnon.

Lyne Girard of Caséal is donating all her profits from the Aug. 3 farmers' market to Chantale Gagnon. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

The retired music teacher sells handmade aprons at the weekly market, and has spearheaded the fundraising efforts.

Paradis said calls from people offering to help have been coming from everywhere across the Eastern Townships.

"Her life is broken," she said. "We need to prove to her how much we love her, and it's not just about money, it's about support."

Paradis said it's also important to recognize Gagnon's contribution to the farming community and the market in the years she and Debaque have been living in the region.

Vendors said there was no question they would join forces to support Gagnon in her time of need.

"Whether people are donating money, buying products, or offering their help to harvest the vegetables, everyone is doing what they can," said Lyne Girard, who makes and sells maple syrup products.  

Girard said it's not just a neighbourhood effort, it's a community effort, and the support has been pouring in from the entire farming community.

On top of donating their profits, vendors at the farmers' market have also made a donation box available and given visitors the opportunity to sign a card for Chantale Gagnon. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

"If she was alone, it would be really sad, and it would be inhumane," said Camille Molton, who sells bubble tea at the market with her mom. "It would be cruel to leave her in her sorrow, and I think it's really important that everybody come together to help her."

The driver of the vehicle that hit Debaque has been charged with impaired driving causing death.

With files from Radio-Canada