The Vallée du Moulin seems to come straight from a science fiction film. In the middle of a maple grove, a honey house and an orchard, several varieties of fig trees grow in high-tech greenhouses powered in part by a small private hydroelectric power station.

No, this little oasis is not the brainchild of James Cameron or J.J. Abrams. Rather, it was born from a dream patiently cultivated first by Serge Proulx and then shared by his four children. After years of work, this tight-knit family welcomed its first visitors this summer in a building worthy of a vineyard, in Melbourne, in Estrie.

Since mid-July, lovers of tasty discoveries can enjoy around fifteen types of fresh figs, grown just on the other side of the path. These emblematic fruits of the Mediterranean basin are accompanied by spreads, pastas and jellies cooked by the eldest Mylène.

Its basic ingredients? Honey and maple syrup produced next to the orchard by her sister Marie-Michèle and her brother Étienne. All cultivated according to the rules of organic cultivation and offered under the sign of family hospitality.

“I’m not interested in hosting 200 people at a time. I want to receive groups of 15 or 20 people maximum so that they can take the time to discover this wonderful place,” confides the father, Serge, a retired engineer and inveterate jack-of-all-trades.

Because Serge Proulx is not a farmer. This 67-year-old from Sherbrooke built his career in the construction of hydroelectric dams in Asia, South America and eastern Canada.

In 1998, this visionary acquired this bucolic gorge where, until the middle of the 20th century, fishermen and swimmers from the surrounding area came to enjoy the clear water of the Salmon River. In the late 1960s, an upstream source of industrial pollution forced the site’s closure and shutdown of the Richmond pumping station. Everything had been abandoned since that day.

As soon as he acquired the dam and 230 acres of the valley, Serge Proulx began a slow rehabilitation of the site. He first rebuilt the dam to create a pretty power station that looks like an old-fashioned mill. A central second, just as flirtatious, followed in 2012. But what next? the engineer asked himself about ten years ago.

“Serge wanted to create an inspiring place on the banks of the river. He was thinking of building greenhouses and using electricity from power stations. But, in his head, it was not a question of tomatoes and cucumbers,” recalls his daughter Anne-Marie, the first of the Proulx children to jump into the adventure. The rest of the siblings gradually joined the business.

The turning point came in 2016 during a trip to Brittany, where Serge Proulx discovered the cultivation of figs.

But how to grow, at reasonable costs, this fruit which normally flourishes under the Mediterranean sky? The solution lies in energy-efficient greenhouses, powered in part by the power plant, designed by Serge Proulx. “I didn’t invent anything,” he explains modestly. I just put the pieces of the puzzle together well. »

The Vallée du Moulin greenhouses are technological laboratories. Temperature, humidity management, irrigation, fertilization, ventilation and lighting are constantly monitored by a climate control management system, powered by electricity produced within the valley.

Water from rain and melting snow is collected for watering the plants. A closed circuit system also allows water and fertilizer to be recovered for later reuse.

Heated by a radiant system integrated into its floors and half-walls, the elegant buildings with chapel roofs benefit from superior insulation thanks to windbreak walls and double-walled partitions. Depending on the outside temperature, their heating is provided either by four forest biomass furnaces or by a gasification furnace.

One of the greenhouses is equipped with industrial heat pumps to allow its dehumidification with minimal latent heat loss. If necessary, it will also be heated by these heat pumps.

Last winter, heating costs for the three greenhouses, totaling 20,000 square feet, came to just $21,000. A simple 20 KW generator is enough to meet the needs of greenhouses in the event of a long-term power outage.

In the first design drafts, Énergir had estimated the costs of heating with natural gas at $100,000. “For half the surface area,” specifies the engineer.

The Vallée du Moulin is a place of experimentation. Both in terms of energy optimization and in the Nordic cultivation of figs. To their knowledge, no one has yet produced organic figs in a greenhouse in Quebec, underlines Anne-Marie Proulx. Which variety to choose? How can you control their growth to maximize greenhouse space? Everything has to be invented, she agrees.

But the fig is not an end in itself. It is only one piece in the great project of the Proulx family. Ultimately, the Vallée du Moulin will for a long time embody the joy of living together and food self-sufficiency while respecting ecology. “Imagine the beautiful garden that all this will become in 25 years,” says Serge Proulx, looking out over the valley.

The fresh fig generally known to Quebecers is called the Black Mission, but there are some 800 varieties around the world. The Vallée du Moulin cultivates around fifteen, such as Violette de Bordeaux, Texas Everbearing and Chicago Hardy. While some are fleshy, sometimes crunchy, others have a tender or melting flesh and a fruity, floral or woody taste.

There are currently 2,500 fig trees in Melbourne’s greenhouses, but their production is still minimal, as a plant must grow for five to seven years before flowering. The harvest begins in mid-July and extends until the end of September.

A fig will keep for three to four days at room temperature and about a week in the refrigerator in the open air.

La Vallée du Moulin does not have any points of sale. Its punnets of figs are only sold to visitors. However, it is possible to reserve one on its website and pick up your order at a time agreed in advance.