The project Vispens started in 2010 with new young farmers, so called ‘neo-ruraux’, or ‘new rurals’ as they do not have a farmer background, although they have done additional courses. They took the initiative, on land purchased by Terre de Liens, to set up a project with several other people, also non-farmers, combining respectful agriculture with shared living and a variety of economic and social activities on this 140 hectares site, of which 80 hectares is arable.
The mainly limestone soil in the Aveyron region is not particularly fertile ground and very suitable for agriculture. Therefore, the farming activities involve cattle breeding with around 50 ‘Aubrac’ beef cows and 30 goats. By next year they want to be self-sufficient in the straw and hay production for their animals. The farm is since April 2011 in transition towards organic farming.
Floran and Ronan, the two farmers, are currently experimenting with the production of goat cheese, but as long as the proper facilities are not ready yet this cheese is only for consumption at Vispens. Also here the work is done by the members. They are currently building the stables for the goats; the concrete was placed while I visited them.
Job rotation and variation of activities
Floran and Ronan, together with new project member Mathilde, share the tasks with the cattle breeding. This kind of job rotation, as you could call it, not only makes the work more interesting, but it also helps to divide the tasks and share the knowledge with more people. This is certainly an asset and a form of responsible risk management; not always applied in these types of projects.
The day I arrived, they organised a weekend of film and music, where a variety of local contacts, friends, producers, etc. were invited on their farm, as part of extending and reinforcing local networks and of course, having fun together.
The group currently consists of 8 adults living on this site, all with different professions. Such as a mechanic, who wants to set up the hosting of people on the farm, an architect, who wishes to further develop so called organic architecture (school of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright) and his wife setting up horse riding lessons again, this time also to handicapped people. Another couple, not living on the farm, joins the project with another economic activity; a ‘brasserie’ or brewery.
An ecological house inspired by the yurt
Vispens is renovating part of the old farmhouse to create joint facilities such as offices, a kitchen and dining room, and to host people. They apply ecological methods and use local materials. They work together with an independent local distributor of ecological building materials. The manager of this SME also developed an on-line service to connect demand and offer – bringing together local independent craftsmen and women and possible jobs on renovation sites in the region.
Another inhabitant of Vispens is Annie, a former and retired teacher, and very lively and active person. She is constructing her own dream house based on and in the shape of two yurts, beautifully built against the rock. She builds the house herself with the help of friends and volunteers. Wood and straw are the main ingredients for this ecological house with a wonderful view over het terraced vegetable garden and the field.
Together with other friends of hers, among others a carpenter, I have been able to contribute to the finishing of the ceiling, we were a ‘dreamteam’ as well that week.
She currently lives in her little ‘roulotte’, or caravan, as if she would part with the circus. Annie tells me she is perfectly happy with this tiny place for the time being. Everyone asks her when her house will be ready. She always replies that she does not really know, nor is it important to her to have a deadline. She mentioned that the process of building her own dream house is the most important and very satisfying. As goes the famous saying: “The journey is more important than the destination”. I agree with Annie and I am sure she will enjoy this adventure of building her house with the hands, knowledge and company of many!
An open shared living community
The very idea of this eco-project and its members is to be open to people from outside, develop different economic and social activities, and create networks between them. Soon Vispens will consist of 11 people. In order to protect the project from possible speculation and to enable its members to develop different activities, different legal structures have been created, of course adapted to the needs and legal French framework. Each member has put it an equal share in a SCI (Société Civile Immobilière) and a distinction is made between the land (which is owned by Terre de Lien) and the buildings (houses). This SCI rents the buildings to the inhabitants. For the daily activities, another association has been set up. This construction enables both one or more people from the project to develop different activities, as well as people that do not live at Vispens to get involved in economic activities. This way this ‘collective’ eco-project combines shared living and activities while maintaining sufficient individual freedom and openness to the larger community.