The Mayor of Barjac contacted the trust fund Terre de Lien to purchase (together with other local and EU funds) the 120 hectares of ‘La Grange des Prés’ including the farm house, just 5 km south of Barjac in the Gard region.
This concerns a total investment of around 2 million Euros. La Grange des Prés dates from the 16th century. It was one of the four farms at the time producing food for the Barjac Castle, which owned the land and farms.The city council of Barjac wished to keep this land and its buildings in local hands and to convert it into organic agricultural activity, while creating local markets for its products. The idea is for instance to use the farming products to provide for around 250 meals a day for the school canteens and elderly people in the Barjac commune (similar to the initiative in the Luberon!).
This land, situated in a plain, is mainly suitable for growing cereals, forage, some vegetables and livestock. Contrary to the usual procedure where farmers contact Terre de Liens which are looking for land, this time it was Terre de Liens together with local actors looking for suitable farmers for the project. The selection procedure took quite some time and several young people were selected. The project is still in the start-up phase. The main activities will involve cattle breeding (pigs and cows), producing bread and, at a later stage, also agroforestry and beekeeping.
A new generation of farmers
Interestingly, most of these new farmers do not have a farming background. The young Belgian couple Dries and Tine, who are here since a year, never farmed before. There are different educational and support schemes in place to make sure that these newcomers can develop the skills of farming.
The French couple Emma and Nicholas, living in the beautiful yurt designed by Emma (photo Emma yurt), were previously nurse and carpenter, with some farming experience with goats, cows and sheep. And there is Fred, who will start his activity as a backer. The old existing farm will be restored and be split in 4 units for the different farmers, but this can still take quite some time.
Meanwhile, Dries and Tine live in a sort of court yard next to the old farm house. They constructed a small temporary wooden house (that can be dismantled) and took care of the basic facilities. Soon they will make their own shower. They both like to develop from scratch and use their creativity.
Furthermore, they have a garden to grow their own vegetables. Being foreigners they also have to deal with many administrative procedures. An important milestone is reached on the 1st of July – then they receive their official permit to start the farming activity, namely raising pigs. The pigs are already purchased at another farm in the region. They will start with six sows, of which several to give birth soon. The idea is to arrive at about 80 pigs in total. The (temporary) stables etc. will also be built by them. This means still some work ahead of them. However, this is part of creating these kinds of projects and they love to do that, of course also with the help of family and others.
Anthroposophy with cows
The young farming couple Emma and Nicholas are the first in the project to have started their activity. Since one month Nicholas has 29 Jersey cows and is experimenting to make his first cheese. Nicholas previously also worked in research on agriculture and ecology and uses an anthroposophical approach for the health and well-being of his cows. He uses the so called ‘obsalim’ cards (developed by giezoneverte) to verify the health status of his herd and to know whether their food intake is appropriate. These cards allow the farmer to check on a variety of parameters, for instance on the state of their fur, nose, eyes and ears, their stool, etc. Each card (the size of a stack of ordinary playing cards) of the various categories indicates a number of possible characteristics and explains what this means for the type of food intake (e.i. does the grass contain the right ingredients and plants), possible lack of certain minerals, vitamins, etc. and gives possible solutions how to improve this.
He asked me, as a complete outsider with hardly any knowledge, to examine his herd and give my opinion. It was very interesting to just walk around his herd and get very close to them. A very revealing exercise!
We discussed my ‘findings’ and we just could say that they were in good shape and health.
Interesting aspect of his work is that he is training his English sheep dog, called Gun, to help him with his cattle (moving them to different pieces of land or to the mobile milking machine).I witnessed Nicholas milking his cows with great dedication. It was clear, that he loves what he does!
Involvement of local politicians
This project shows that local councils can play a proactive and positive role in responsible rural and economic planning. The question is then to what extend these initiatives are further supported by the public authorities. A shop owner in the Barjac village (everyone there knows about this project!) who mentioned that, in his view, the local authorities had not done enough to help these young people with the many bureaucratic barriers and administrative burdens. As he put it: “It is nice for the image of politicians to start a project like this, but they should have pulled it through all the way. These young people are confronted with many problems and the city council should have done more to help them.”
Of course this is the personal opinion of an inhabitant. But as a matter of fact, in all the projects I have visited so far, people mentioned the enormous administrative burdens existing in their country and how hard that is for a small entrepreneur, organic farmer, etc.These burdens certainly do not help to stimulate (private) initiative and support small organic and responsible farming projects.
‘Chapeau’ to all the people who believe in their dream and have the courage to develop their projects, despite the barriers, based on values of responsibility, simplicity and reconnecting to earth!