Family farming at a previous brown mill
Although this originally brown mill is not visible anymore (only some walls inside the house where kept), the family Pascal is farming already for several generations at Le Moulin Brun in this Regional Nature Park of the Luberon (next post also more about the many sustainable actions in this nature park!).
This family farm is now ran by Florian together with his brother (a true mechanic genious!) and his sister. They cultivate the 96 hectares of which 24 hectares is productive for a variety of melons, pumpkins, onions, and potatoes. The rest of the land is heath, or not made productive. His sister will further elaborate chicken breeding.
Since 1998 it is an organic farm. The products are mainly sold via wholesalers, but also through local distribution (the so called ‘panniers’) and a small portion through direct sales, at the new shop ‘Unis Verts Paysans’ in Forcalquier, but also in Manosque.
Organic farming; more than just producing food
Florian is a very dynamic young farmer involved in many different projects. He likes the variety of activities around farming. Apart from managing the work and workers at the farm, he runs 3 gîtes, of which one with the WWF Panda label, this ecolabel is given to ‘Gîtes de France’ that are positioned in protected areas such as Nature Parcs (want to know more about labels on eco-tourism in France, then check this comparison executed by Ecocert).
He also is a mountain guide for hikers (you need a special training with diploma for that in France) and he established a year ago a direct sales point (short circuits between producers and consumers) in Forcalquier, called ‘Unis Verts Paysans’.
The first afternoon he took me on a site visit of a new ‘ferme auberge’ in Aubenas les Alpes. This is a concept of a restaurant & farm where people eat the products from the farm (minimum 51% of their own grown products have to be used in the menu). The also can see/visit the products and animals at the farm, so they get a connection to the products that are served. This site visit was done together with a representative of the Chamber of Agriculture (mainly checking the technical specifications for this kind of farming activity). Thus the specific expertise of the local farmers is used to help newcomers with practical advice (also as this knowledge is often not available with the staff of the Chamber!).
In this case the ‘ferme auberge’ produces vegetables, fruits and different types of poultry, such as chicken and ‘pentades’. It will open this summer for the public.
The establishment of ‘Unis Verts Paysans’
Together with currently 37 local organic producers, Florian set up a shop where their vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk products, meat, jams, oils, soaps etc. are sold directly to the consumers.
This cooperative system implies that the producers are actively involved in running the shop. This means each producer dedicates half a day a week in the shop, and they deliver their products at the shop. The current board consists of 13 producers. Florian explains that the management of and working in a cooperative way is quite a challenge. Each producer has its own ideas about and vision on how this project needs to evolve. Just two weeks ago they hired an employee to run the shop. This also means agreeing on what tasks this person should have and how the concept of the shop should be elaborated. Next year they will move to a larger space. The enlarged space will be used by different local actors. A new association will be established, called ‘Village Vert’. This involves a group of local actors that support socially, economically and ecologically respectful development and cooperative dynamics. They just finished a charter for that.
Basic rules for responsible work
I came to know Florian as a coach to people. He makes sure that people who come to work at his farm know about what he expects, and what they need to know to work safely. He mentioned that this is, unfortunately, not always done properly at all farms. However, when there are accidents or damage, it is at the charge of the farmer! He is very cautious to take the time to inform each new trainee, season worker, or volunteer of 3 important aspects:
- security & safety: both personal, as well as handling equipment, tools and the merchandise;
- efficiency: working well and fast; finding a balance between doing it right and realise that this is a productive farm, not Sunday afternoon gardening!;
- ‘convivialité’, if the first two are realised, then working together is also fun!
The story of the melon seeds
I have done several jobs together with other young season workers while staying at Le Moulin Brun. Weeding was one of the jobs – an ever-recurring and important activity at an organic farm. As no pesticides are used, this is all manual work. Furthermore, we planted thousands of melon seeds, about 15.000! These seeds are purchased. Depending on the type of melon, a seed costs about 0,15 Euro.
The seeds are first planted in new earth (by the way, coming from Holland, very good quality according to several organic farmers), in so called ‘mottes’, which are prepared by a machine.
The seeds are then placed manually on top of the earth and covered with some more earth. These pots are then placed on the ground in the glass house, where they develop into small plants, before being planted in the open fields.
The critical point in this part of the process is … ANTS! They steal the seeds and take them to their own nests! I witnessed how only a little hole is left in the ‘motte’. There goes the farmer’s money and effort! This can mount to a considerable loss.
Organic farming and insects is a ‘love-hate’ affair. There are some organic ‘pesticide’ products that can be used against insects, etc., but the fight is not easy! “Timing is everything here”, Florian says. “If you are too early (when the eggs of certain insects have not hatched) or slightly too late (when the eggs have already hatched) placing the product, you waste money and time”.
Now I understand why Florian was always, also when driving, looking at and inspecting the fields; even those of other farmers! Florian showed me that good farming comes with a lot of experience and knowledge and that timing is crucial in this work.
Oh yes, 10 years ago he gave his father a little Christmas gift, two small pigs. One is still alive and weighs about 300 kilos. She walks freely around the farm and eats whatever she likes. She is certainly the biggest pig I have ever seen!