France | Farming by Numbers part 2

Stéphane speaking to Jeanine and Valérie of Nos Campagnes en Résilience in September 2021. Photo credit: Hannes Lorenzen

Work less, age better. Instead of more money, choosing to bring in more farmers. For Stéphane and his associates on their six-hectare horticulture farm, GAEC Le Jardin des Pierres Bleues, every choice is calculated to yield the best outcomes for people and planet. Part 2 of a conversation with Valérie Geslin.

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France | Farming by Numbers part 1

It’s easy to sell organic vegetables at the moment. We go to the market or to the CSA, and the van comes back empty.

It’s very good because we sell everything by the kilo. We don’t do little 200g bags to make you think it’s cheaper. Once people taste the spinach and green beans, they won’t buy from anywhere else. That’s how we build our customer base. We don’t mess people around.

We do a Friday morning market: we sell our beans at €8 a kilo in all seasons; conventional beans sell for €14. But we’re no poorer than anyone else.

Direct sales are huge here. If there’s a new vegetable grower at the market, it’s not the grower who’s been there for years who is going to suffer. When there’s additional supply, the demand appears, it’s incredible.

“We grow about fifty different vegetables – maybe more. If there’s one that doesn’t work so well, it’s no big deal.” Photo credit: Hannes Lorenzen

Supporting new entrants

My mother is moving out. It’s a former farm; there’s everything a new entrant would need. I’m going to have to call farmers who have 300 or 400 hectares and ask them to leave aside 4 or 5 hectares for a new farmer to grow vegetables. But I know the answer already: it’s complicated. You’re dealing with people who never have enough, who are always complaining, who don’t take holidays, who are closed off from the outside. They are totally in the system.

I love going to talk to bankers with new farmers. I have the assurance of my experience. When I get a group of trainees, I tell them: “You bought books. Good. You’ll be able to light a nice fire with them and depending on where you land, you’re going to adapt your plan. You won’t adapt it to the books you’ve read.” You can’t compare one place to another.

There’s an example in Quebec: they don’t do potato crops or cabbage crops. For us a crop is not even half a hectare. No potatoes, no cabbage. Anything that takes up space, they don’t do it. Easy. But if you want potatoes, you have to go elsewhere.

If we were a little more intelligent, we’d do big fields of potatoes for a village. That would work better. But that’s not the world we live in.

Stéphane shows the Nos Campagnes en Résilience team around the farm, September 2021. Photo credit: Hannes Lorenzen

Work less, age better

You start to see people who make me nervous. New entrants with these famous books. They want to produce on tiny little plots and they’re going to wear themselves out. In five years they’ll have destroyed their backs, their knees – and the drive they started out with.

The idea when you start farming is that five years in, you stabilise economically and in terms of production, and 10 years in, usually, you work less. I see people 10 years in who are working just as much. They won’t last, they’re going to hurt themselves.

If you want to age well, work as little as possible. That won’t happen by itself. But I see that for the last dozen years we’ve been working a lot less: we have more experience, there are more of us, and there’s less and less money to hand over to the bank. Instead of more money, we’ve chosen to bring in more farmers.

“We work with tarps, we put holes in them, we’ve had them for 13 years. There are choices of technique to make in the beginning.” Photo credit: Hannes Lorenzen

Winds of change

I’m not very involved in activism. I don’t really have the time. But there were plans to install wind turbines next to our farm, it was unbelievable, I met lots of local councillors, neighbours. I fought and there was a pretty good response. There were quite a lot of us. The local authorities were on our side. We don’t know why but we have no wind turbines!

You start to see fields of solar panels, where four sheep will be put in under them. Enough! You can turn off the light, you can turn the thermostat down from 24°C to 18°C. I love these topics and sharing with others. Society needs to change.

We’re in constant contradictions. It’s not easy to sleep at night. You have to have faith.

This conversation has been edited for clarity. Translated by Louise Kelleher.

Nos Campagnes En Résilience is ARC2020’s project to help build rural resilience in France. Visit the project page here and follow us on InstagramLinkedIn and FacebookIf you’d like to get involved, contact our project coordinator Valérie Geslin

More on this project

France | Farming by Numbers part 1

France | Change Is In Our Hands – Part 1

France | Change Is In Our Hands – Part 2

France | Rural Resilience – All In Good Time


France | Cooking Up Fairer Food & Farming Part 1

France | Cooking Up Fairer Food & Farming Part 2

France | Collective Farming, Community and Connection

France | Building Rural Resilience From The Ground Up

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About Valérie Geslin 26 Articles

Valérie était coordinatrice du projet « Nos Campagnes en résilience » de 2020 à 2022. Après avoir cheminé dans des associations d’Education Populaire, Valérie a travaillé pendant une dizaine d’années dans le secteur du développement local et notamment dans le Beaufortain. Diplômée d’un Master 2 en Sciences Politiques sur le changement social et les solidarités territoriales, elle a réalisé son mémoire de recherche sur l’influence des émotions des professionnels dans la mise en œuvre des changements politiques territoriaux. Son mémoire professionnel a été axé sur la thématique des réseaux d’agents de développement rural en Savoie. Valérie est attachée au milieu rural dont elle est native. Son approche sociale et de terrain lui permettra de porter un autre regard sur les transitions socio-agro-écologiques actuelles. Ses expériences d’animation lui permettront de proposer des outils et méthodes participatives afin que chacun puisse être acteur de ce projet. Curieuse, engagée, pleine de volonté et de bonne humeur, elle souhaite aller à la rencontre de ce monde rural, découvrir ce qui fait leur force et apporter ainsi son petit grain de sel pour construire un futur de l’Europe rurale plus résilient.