learning about ecology and taking on responsability
A remarkable project is the association ‘Les Amanins’. This modern agro-ecological centre, created in 2005 by Michel Valentin and Pierre Rabhi, is an excellent example showing how eco-systems can work for food production, our living and working together. Ecology at Les Amanins means taking care of both the environment and the human relations. It is based on a model of cooperation and shared responsibilities and demonstrates the philosophy of the ‘sobriété heureuse’ – the happiness in simplicity, of Pierre Rabhi.
The main role of this ecological farm is of educational nature and the notion of transmitting the knowledge and ‘savoir faire’ to young and old from schools, business, institutions, associations, or people who wish to spend a holiday at the centre and learn about gardening, cheese making, making the bricks for the buildings, etc. It is by experiencing these day-to-day practices of an organic and self-supporting farm with its diverse elements that people learn about the wealth of eco-systems, and all the materials it can provide, as well as learning about respect for the environment.
This organic farm and centre with a surface of 55 hectares, consisting of heath, forest, arable land, is self-sufficient in food for all people working and staying there, including all visitors for workshops, seminars, and apprenticeship and volunteers (system of Wwoofers). The centre is also autonomous in its energy (wind, solar), uses dry toilets and phytodepuration systems for the water used in showers, washing. This natural water cleaning system creates more biodiversity and attracts lots of frogs and toads in the different pools, which cannot be overheard! Furthermore, the centre produces its own bricks, straw and other natural materials for the buildings. A visit inside the dormitories for the children of the school made clear how well insulated these buildings are and how relaxing the interior felt (without the usual equipment in most of our homes!).
Besides growing their own vegetables, fruits and cereals, the centre also has a life stock of goats, sheep and a cow for milk, cheese, and meat. As part of the philosophy, none of the animals are vaccinated, and in case of disease receive homeopathic treatment.
The centre also has a small shop open to the public where the organically produced products are sold and runs its own restaurant with a cook, catering for the people working and visiting Les Amanins. The centre also works with apprenticeship places (‘stages’) in different areas (restaurant, building, gardening, etc).
Alternative educational system
The centre has an officially recognised school with 31 children in the age of 6 to 12 years old, based on the Steiner-Waldorf educational system (see films on their website!), an exemption in the French, rather traditional, educational system. Core elements in this education are: respect, opening the mind, curiosity and absence of arrogance. Furthermore, the centre has 11 paid staff (8,5 FTE) among others: teachers, restaurant-kitchen, bakery, construction, agriculture, book-keeping, secretary, etc.
As part of the system of the school and the association, parents and/or family members of the school children help out 10 times half a day per year with different activities on the farm. This is about sharing and taking on responsibility.
A life time experience for school kids
The day I was kindly hosted as a guest at the centre, there was also a group of 11 and 12 year olds with their teachers from a primary school in Valence. They spent two days on the farm and participated in all kinds of activities on the farm and cooperative games. I assisted at a session with the young backer of the centre, while he showed them how the dow was made and the bread was baked in the wood oven. Of course, the ingredients coming from the farm.
While the oven was doing its work, the discussion with the children on how they had experienced these two days was quite revealing….
“I have never eaten as many vegetables as I did here!”
Some children said they had never eaten as many vegetables as in these two days! Others, mainly boys, said they were hungry between the meals. My guess is that they are so much used to taking (sweet, fat, salty) snacks throughout the day instead of having three decent meals a day, they just were not used to eating properly during these meals. Other children addressed the fact that all these products cannot be found in the supermarkets where they (their parents) do the shopping. Indeed, they do not know where else to buy them either.
On the meat-issue the opinions were divided: some boys missed their regular intake of Mac Donald’s (and the Coke), others were happily surprised with the variety of dishes (and tastes!), of which several without any meat.
When asked to express in one word how they experienced their stay at Les Amanins, the superlatives were unanimous: ‘superbe, génial, unique, fantastique, extraordinaire, cool …’ No translation needed!
To me this project and the experiences expressed by these children shows two things:
- The importance of eco-projects such as Les Amanins and the so much needed real experiences of ecological farming, housing, etc. that all the people involved co-create for our future generations.
- We can feed ourselves in a healthy way, while living and creating sustainable environments and buildings, and working together in a respectful and enriching way.
Ecology as it is meant to be!