The Frenchmen discovering France’s most innovative farms
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Two young men from Val d’Oise, an area to the north of Paris, spent eight months this year traveling around France in search of the best alternative organic farming techniques. Throughout their trip, they posted videos, interviews and blog posts both to raise awareness about organic agriculture and to offer practical advice to people interested in starting farms of their own.
In the past ten years, organic food has made its way into French kitchens. Indeed, Agence Bio, a French public interest group, said that 2016 had been a “historic” year for the sector. That year, consumers in mainland France spent 7 billion euros on food with labels stating it was produced without GMOs or agrochemicals. That's a 20% increase on 2015.
The number of people working in the organic food sector also grew by close to 12%. Antonin Deshayes and Julien Pedrot, two diehard believers in organic agriculture, decided to go meet the farmers behind this produce movement.
During an eight-month period, the two young men both aged 24 visited 11 different farms to gather information about the environmentally-friendly methods they were using. They created a series of informational videos and blog posts about the farms and their methods, which they shared on their Facebook page and website "The Plants of Tomorrow” ("Les plants de demain").
"We actually went to these farms to learn from the farmers themselves"Julien Pedrot, who graduated with a degree in environmental engineering from the Institut Supérieur de l’Agriculture in Lille, told FRANCE 24's Observers what he and Deshayes wanted to achieve with their project.
We want to raise awareness about organic farming and to share information about it. We wanted to use our interviews and videos to promote farming techniques that are good for the environment.
It’s true that there is already data and resources about organic farming in books or online. However, our aim was to actually go to these farms to talk to and work with the people making the shift towards environmentally-friendly farming. That way, we were able to ask them directly about their methods and how they chose to work with specific crops.
We became more familiar with techniques that we didn’t know a lot about. For example, in Brittany, we went to a farm that used fermented extracts from nettles and ferns to combat pests and weeds [Editor’s note: Contrary to popular belief, not all organic products are pesticide-free.]
An example: self-fertilising mounds
The two friends also made videos highlighting different permaculture techniques, like the construction of self-fertilising mounds ("buttes auto-fertiles"). This method consists of making a big pile of organic material and covering it with earth to create crop beds. If you keep watering to a strict minimum (or don’t water at all), then the decomposition of the material makes it possible to grow grass, plants, vegetables, fruit or flowers.
"The same problems crop up: foreign competition and social security costs"
Their blog also provides information about the economics of running a farm and includes information the acreage of different farms as well as the number of employees and the tools used. According to Antonin Deshayes, the two want to use the information they gathered to start their own farm.
Our aim to eventually launch our own farm in the Île-de-France region. But, even if this region has a lot of potential, there are negatives: for example, land is expensive and hard to buy. We’ll probably struggle financially for the first few years.
So we took advantage of this farm tour to ask a lot of questions. We talked to farmers about the history of their farms and how they had chosen their location, model, and size. When we chose the farms that we visited, we made sure that they were all using different models so we could get the most broad vision possible.
This information about the way that these farms were set up is for those who, like us, want to get into organic agriculture. But it’s also a way to introduce people to organic producers so people know where their produce is coming from. For example, we noticed that of the 11 farms we went to, nine of the farmers had started in organic agriculture after making a career change. [Editor’s note: One had been a journalist while another had been a history and geography teacher. There was also a former real estate agent].
Again and again, farmers mentioned to us the difficulties of foreign competition and the burden of social security costs. It is a sector that requires more labour than traditional farming. [Editor’s note: According to Agence Bio, organic farms need, on average, one more worker per farm than a conventional farm: "Organic farming generates more jobs than conventional farming.”] When you aren’t using chemicals to kill weeds, for example, you need people to be able to weed for you and that’s expensive. These are things to consider before setting up.
With the new knowledge that they’ve gained and the techniques that they’ve learned from being on the ground, Deshayes and Pedrot want to launch their own farm by 2020 in the Île-de-France region. In the meantime, they are still learning and still sharing what they learned on their Facebook page and website.
If you want to reach out to Julian and Antonin or to help them realise their dream of owning an organic farm, then you can send an email to us at email@example.com.