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Stevia experiment in Franklin 0

Stevia is a small shrub native to South America that has been drawing increasing public attention. Franklin residents Marie-Hélène Beaudry and Louis Bruneau fell under the stevia spell only one year ago. This October, they invited friends to their home to share their experiences with the plant's performance under a variety of conditions.

Jacqueline and Dana Roch, Ken Rimmer and Jo Ann McNally all found themselves in the living room of Beaudry's residence along Montée Covey Hill. They all came for different reasons for information about stevia, but shared a common goal: healthy eating without artificial sweeteners. The Roches direct the Initiative pour les produits fermiers locaux (local farm products initiative). Rimmer is interested in diverse cultures, including tree nut production. Meanwhile, McNally has been sowing stevia herself for eight years.

Sweetening agent

Stevia leaves are a known sweetener. They can easily be used as a sugar substitute in many recipes. "In the young plant, stevia leaves are 300 times sweeter than sugar. The older the plant, the more diminished its sugar content. The taste also changes. The leaves taste like liquorice," noted Beaudry. Guests experienced the evidence for their hostess's claims through a supporting taste test.

This year, Marie-Hélène Beaudry planted many small shrubs, starting from seeds and from seedlings, in different locations on her land and in pots. Planted in earth, the shrub did not yield considerable results. More than half of the young shoots gave up the ghost. "Stevia needs space. It doesn't seem to like company," she remarked. With a laugh, she added, "Over the years, I have discovered that the earth decides what will grow, not us."

On the other hand, the results of potted plantings were surprising. Beaudry kept one stevia plant on her balcony and another in her home. At the time of our visit, the two specimens were at the same stage of growth, regardless of temperatures that had already dropped below 10oC outside. After the meeting, the exterior plant was entrusted to Ken Rimmer. He hopes to generate offspring from the mature plant, which he will return to Beaudry next spring. As for the interior specimen, Beaudry plans to try planting it outside when the good weather returns. For now, having embraced old rural traditions, she has stevia leaves drying in her kitchen. "I'll grind them up and we'll try them, that's for sure," she insisted.

Experimentation

The cultivation of stevia is part of Marie-Hélène Beaudry's philosophy. The woman, originally from Outremont, settled on land in Franklin in 2005. Since then, she has invested a great deal in buying a variety of seedlings each year to conduct new experiments on her land.

Her peach tree, planted in 2009, is among her successes. The tree, which normally yields its first fruit at age four or five, offered a crop in its second year. "In 2010, it tripled in size and was full of fruit. This year, it was so heavy that I had to stake it for support. Otherwise, it would have fallen under the weight of its peaches," recalled the hostess. Urged on by his curiosity, Ken Rimmer also went home with one of the peach pits that Beaudry had taken care to bury at the foot of the tree. In turn, he hopes to reproduce his friend's results.

The Franklin resident's land is covered in plantings of kiwifruit, plum trees, green grape vines and Japanese pomegranates. Roses and nut trees also enjoy the soil of her well-drained slopes.

This enjoyable meeting ended with a delicious dinner. Guests shared dishes based around vegetables from Beaudry's garden and the gardens of her neighbours.

(MJB Trad. Denise D. Chilton)