Malplaquet farm, producing to survive…

In 1976, five families decided to settle on 70 hectares forming a commune close to the nature. They created a GAEC (legal group of farmers) to start growing veggies and animals, while they all come from the city. Beginnings have been really difficult, but today they own 90 goats, 50 sheep, 40 cows, 4 horses and 2 pigs. The farm also gathers many fruit trees. They produce every day 300 liters of fresh milk, which they transform into yoghurt and cheese to sell on the market. Most of the first settlers are still working in the farm but they will be soon retired. Some of their children are following agricultural studies and new young people may settle…

Now that a new generation has to handle the farm, it is time to review the achievements. The idealism of the beginning has been replaced by the necessity to produce always more to survive: always increasing cattle to get subsidies from the state. This process lead to the end of the veggies gardening and also to a huge burden of work (milking, collecting hay, moving the cattle…). Despite the amount of work, incomes are very low and don’t enable to invest in new tools or some comfort. It is partially because the farm made the choice to offer very good quality product (fresh and organic) at a really low price. In return, the farmers have to live on the state subsidies in an under-heated house when you can get a hot shower only twice a week…

Will the new generation be able to find new orientations to liberate time to really enjoy the place? Everything is in place for a successful future : lots of lands, numerous natural resources, the older knowledge, a spirit close to the nature and the consumers, strong social ties between the people, even if fights sometimes occurs due to the amount of work…

Biodynamic farming in Alsace: from self-sufficiency to market farming…

Since I came back in Strasbourg, I discovered an new kind of agriculture close to the nature: biodynamic farming. The bases of this method have been given in 1924 by Rudolph Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. He gave 8 conferences to the farmers who were getting worried because of their land depletion. Biodynamic farming lays on a deep understanding and respect of life rules supported by a global vision of nature. It relays mainly on the use of biodynamic preparations like horn-manure, slug manure or compost. It follows the cosmic rhythms to give back to the soil its strength, enabling a better growth of the plants.

I first met M. Courreur, a retired man crazy about biodynamic farming. He spends half of his time taking care of his beautiful biodynamic garden of 0.8 hectares in the middle of Strasbourg. It took him 4 years to create a garden which could feed him and his wife, and some friends. In the front yard, he is growing carrots, pumpkin and potatoes on horse compost mounds. In the middle of the garden, he is associating various veggies like tomatoes, beetroots, salads, strawberries, sunflowers, beans with aromatic plants (basil, garlic, onion, mint) and flowers (blueberries, marigolds…) to repulse annoying insects and attract bees. He uses a hot frame in the winter to grow the most fragile plants. He grows also fruits in the back yard: red- and blackcurrant, raspberries, cherries and plums. He is watering all his garden by hand.

M. Courreur isn’t using any chemical products in his garden but he often treats his fruits and veggies with biodynamic preparations. The principle is to treat issues with the problem using homeopathic quantities. For example, if your garden is surrounded by slug, put some of them in a bucket for a few days to get their manure. Dilute the manure in a large amount of water and spray on the garden to repulse other slugs.

I also helped Remi Picot on his biodynamic market garden. Installed since more than 30 years, he is growing a large number of leaf veggies (salad, leek, spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, aromatic plant), root veggies (radish, turnips, carrot, beetroot, onion, Jerusalem artichoke) and fruit veggies (tomato, bean, pea, cucumber, pepper, zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant). He uses 1 hectare of field land and 0.5 hectare under a greenhouse. The wide range of veggies he grows ensures the health of the soil and the consumers. He is growing 70 sheep to be able to use their manure in his fields as compost. He also uses of course many biodynamic preparations, especially made with medicinal plants (nettle, dandelions, valerian, yarrow…). So there are strong ties between the land, the plants growing there, the animals and the people leaving there and the energy created…

Thanks to his status of market farmer, he can resale the products of other local farmers among with his own products on local markets twice a week. A long queue in front of his stall proves that numerous people enjoy the quality of his products certifies by the Demeter label. Close to retirement, Remi Picot is deeply engaged in sharing his knowledge with other local farmers and also the young generation. He organized gathering with the farmers to prepare biodynamic preparations together. He also teaches some part of an agricultural training specialized in biodynamic, unique in France.

To see some pictures, just click in the link below:

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