« Be the change you want to see in the world ».
I am just back from a week at the Farm des Roussets, closed to St Jean en Royan. It is not a coincidence if I choose this place. It has been few years already that I am following more or less attentively the adventure of Batotopie Collectif in which my brother is involved. Theses 6 Compagnons of REPAS network -Network for exchange and supportive and alternative practices- have met during their tour de France. They got on well, shared the same dream and the same values so they decided to do it: to form a collectif, to share their incomes, to buy a land and a farm and to produce vegetables, cereals, bread, honey and cultural events.
The Roussets farm the collectif and the functioning
The Farm des Roussets is composed of 30 acres, 5 acres are dedicated to market gardening and the remaining is for cereals. It is also a mill, a bakery, a future honey house, 2 garages and a big hangar. And there is also the old manure which will be soon transformed into a shop and a venue. Of course there is an house: a single-storey with only a small part of the upper floor converted into an office area. The ground floor is constituted of a cold storage, a future vegetable processing area (currently the kitchen), a dinning room with a log stove, a future in kitchen (currently under construction) and a minimum comfort bathroom-laundrette . By consequence, the collectif members don’t have a house at the farm, they dispatched themselves between a yurt or caravan on the land or a flat in the village. The collectif is composed by 2 market gardeners: Annabel and Max, a farmer-baker: Nicolas, a beekeeper Nicolas and 2 cultural animators: Anne and Pascale. Moreover this year, Matthieu is joining the crew to work on the pedagogic side of the farm. Their way of working is in autogestion: no hierarchy, a lot of listening and goodwill, non-violent communication and all the decisions are taken unanimously. They share their incomes and allow themselves a monthly salary of 600 euros. If there is some money left, it is re-injected in the farm buildings. They are hoping to reach 1000 euros monthly salary in few years time. The name Farm des Roussets is grouping the agricultural activity ( GAEC des Roussets), the beekeeping and the cultural association Batotopie.
The annual general meeting
Two weeks before I came to the farm to take part to the general meeting and I have been impressed by the courage and the confidence in the future which animate the little group. It isn’t easy to present the annual results of each activity after only one year of exercise! Here the numbers rarely overcome the thousands euros, nothing to do with the monthly results of the company I used to work for! They need to explain why for now not all the activities are profitable: the first green house which flew away a day of extremely strong wind, a part of the bees which died poisoned by a fungicide the first summer; and all of that standing in front of the assembly. An assembly very active, avid to know about the way of life of the collectif and which doesn’t hesitate to share experience, advices and encouragements . The exchange between the collectif and the assembly is rich in this misty Sunday morning: « At the beginning our desire was to create a collective place and to make it alive. This place doesn’t belong to us, it has been bought of course with our participation but not only: there are many other contributors who bought some parts. The aim is that each of us feel home here, do you feel home? » asks the farmer Nicolas.
From dream to reality
From dream to reality there are many compromises and challenges. » The group is indeed a force which allows us to realise and bring to life some projects « explains Max. And the two Nicolas agree on the fact that » We constantly need to make compromises between our vision and what is possible. For example when we started the project we had the idea to collaborate and help between the different activities to work together. In reality we don’t have the time to stop the work in the garden to go and help at the bakery , the be-keeping or the animation and the other way around … » Actually since the collectif is installed in the region of Royan they had to seek for gouvernemental and European financial support. Also they had to find some complementary job in order to not base the income on the uncertain results of the first years of the farm. Thus the cultural duo works in addition to its implication in Batotopie. Anne found a position of animator at the local radio: Radio Royan. Pascale has on one hand created her own association of popular education: Ébullition , on another hand she is animator in the summer camp which takes place on their land. » Before we were meeting altogether for informal moments, games and a chill out week-end per year. We don’t take the time any more » observes Annabel. Actually they all agree to say that since they started the project they feel a strong pressure of result and lack of time. They allow themselves only very few holidays, but they live accordingly to their values and it is a great pride.
A successful local integration
If the reality is sometimes heavy for the collectif, it however benefits from a great local support. In one year the group has archived its integration.They are neither lonely, nor isolated but well surrounded by all the people who believe in their initiatives. Indeed, there is not a day passing without regular or spontaneous visitors coming to give a hand or simply say hi. The past week a friend of Pascale came to help building the new kitchen, Lucas was there to build a dry stone wall, Aurélien shared his precious carpenter expertise and Laurent was supporting him. There were also Michel who came few hours at the garden, the visit of Nadia who had the desire to do the garden while chatting with her friend Annabel or Zoé who joined Thursday afternoon to renforce the construction team. And of course on Friday afternoon- day of sales at the farm- the subscribers came to collect their vegetable basket and buy the bred for the week-end. Getting locally integrated also means to build local partnerships. For example Annabel and Max are part of a market gardener mutual aid where they share half day of work per week, rotating between the different gardens. Another example is the one of Nicolas who buys the wood for the bakery stove at a local fabric of garden tools handles. He also produces hay for a colleague who work with animal traction. This great team is creating some ecosystems at local scale. Moreover they already archived the bet of leaving together and mutual aid, a great work they can be proud of.
My experience at the Farm des Roussets
I spent a week with Annabel and Nicolas who are leaving in the yurt in front of the farm. I invested the visitors caravan and shadowed the couple in their daily activities. Finally I put my hands in the earth! I spent the first 3 days gardening with Annabel and Max. It is the occasion to clear from stones a field next to the greenhouse , to transplant the kales outside, to refresh the strawberry bushes, to collect the leeks and the mesclun for the weekly baskets . An experience which makes me realise how physical is the work of market gardener who always work at ground level. It works on the back muscles, the knees, the thighs and the arms.
With my fragile back, I already knew this profession wasn’t for me, now I’ve got the confirmation. However I find this work very interesting: understanding the earth and its functioning, enhancing the yields and all of this to produce healthy food, what a noble profession! Theses few days are the occasion to get to know better Annabel, to notice how much her passion for the earth is big, leads her and generate in her a beautiful energy. Indeed, she is able to work all day long in the garden and go directly to a 2 hours session of African dance! No need to mention the violin classes since Septembre on the top of that . She is learning so fast that she is already able to play in public…it is true passion gives wings!
At the farm it is non-stop, there is always something to do and the only moments to relax are the one spent around a good meal. Here we drink spring water coming directly from the mountains, we eat the vegetables and the bred produced. The lunchs are full of conviviality, suspended time where everyone gather to exchange and refill in energy. Each member of the collectif is responsible of the kitchen one day per week. At the farm we always plan the meals compting an extra person, just in case someone turns up. During my stay we have never been less than 7 around the table! For me, these precious moments of conviviality are the best moments in the day.
Thursday is a special day: it is the day of the weekly meeting: all the members of the collectif are here at 8.00 am and the morning is dedicated to share the advancement of the different projects, the questions, the difficulties and the decision making. I don’t attend this team time, instead I focus on a flyers proposal in order to continue to mobilise the good wills around the project. At the end of the meeting we meet on the work-site, in the dust and the straw we spend our energy after this very static morning.
On Friday, it is bred day and sales day. I wake up at 5 am in order to help Nicolas at the bakery. It is an intense day of 12 hours work with 3 breaks of 20 to 40 minutes only. Still I enjoy it very much. We weight, we knead the dough, we fold, we weight and prepare the bred. There are so much manipulations that when Nicolas works on his own he carries not less than a weight of 3 tonnes of flour, dough and bred during the day!
Before lunch time we prepare 2 batches of bred (150 kg in total), and after an express lunch the loading team joins the bakery. « Only few farmer-baker have the privilege to realise this operation with such a team. « explains proudly Nicolas. It is a well orchestrated operation which then takes place in front of my eyes: Matthieu prepares the trays of bred and covers it with flour, Pascale prepares 2 bred on each wooden baker’s peels and Nicolas loads the oven. The aim of the operation is to execute it as fast as possible in order to maintain the oven temperature constant. Then comes my third break, this time I can not resist to a little snooze on the sofa…only 10 minutes before the next batch! It is a tiring day, still very pleasant. It remains me my student times and the long hours in the lab… in a better version as I can eat a some warm bred at the end !
Last but not least, Saturday is a very sunny day. While Annabel is at selling bred vegetables and honey at the market and Nicolas is working in the fields I feel a bit unproductive. So I start to clean up the kitchen and the dinning room and then I cook the lunch…in between the read of two short stories sat outside under the sun…happiness! After the lunch my legs are itching me, so I challenge myself to climb at the cross in less than 2 hours. I passed by this place few weeks before but it is so much better under the sun !
In order to end this great week beautifully, nothing better than a folk party led by the group Faucon Folk. I was dreaming of such evening since a long time, I can now tick that box on my list !
A desire to support the Farm des Roussets?
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