Before being a farmer, Elise was graphic designer. And because the world today questions us, behind the screen of her computer, Elise was frustrated, almost angry. So one day she chose. Elise decided to change her life.
With his partner Xavier, they left the city for a fertile field in the middle of a forest where, as in the song, not far flows a stream and where wild plants are gathered with both hands if one finally learns to see them .
Two years ago they launched "The Farmer and the Epicurean". Today they live on their crops. Their convictions above all.
Let's meet Elise and Xavier.
Elise, you launched your project of producing aromatic and medicinal plants two years ago with your partner Xavier. What was your idea?
It is a life project above all. From the moment we took the radical decision to become farmers, and we started everything to get there, life has shown us the way. Choices, meetings, and after 20 years on the Basque Coast, we found ourselves in Castagnède (near Salies-de-Béarn) on a unique and exceptional plot of 6ha in the middle of the forest. Our approach is to try to make a living from this job, but also and above all to preserve the biodiversity of this place, without working the soil too much and without any chemical treatment.
What prompted you to take the step of changing your lifestyle?
I was a freelance graphic designer and I spent my days behind a screen and … I tripped. I no longer felt at all in agreement with the way I wanted to live and my convictions. And also unhappy not to offer anything else to our daughter Jeanne.
Xavier was a journalist in the surf press for 20 years, but over the past two years, he came home frustrated every day. We realized that we had too much anger inside of us and that we had to act rather than complain.
You had to go through training, learn new skills. Can you tell us about this journey before starting with farming?
Before taking this big step, I trained by correspondence in the trades of herbalism. Then I passed my BPREA (diploma to become a farmer). Xavier, meanwhile, did design training in permaculture and has done a lot of research on the Internet or read a lot of books. Our training continues on the job, and will surely continue our whole life because it is an area where we learn something new every day.
So what do you cultivate there?
There is the part of aromatic and medicinal plants like thyme, basil of all kinds, lemon balm, verbena, mauve, blueberry, rose, marjoram, oregano, etc. And also a market gardening part intended mainly for processing: tomato, chilli, squash, cucumber, zucchini, melon, physalis, etc. We also installed a diversified orchard with apple, pear, cherry, peach, apricot, plum and feijoa trees. Another very important part of our activity is wild picking. We harvest a lot from the uncultivated areas of our land, between meadows and forests. We also sometimes go to the mountains.
You sell plants in the spring, can you tell us about them?
Since we produce our own plants, we have equipped ourselves with a horticultural greenhouse. So from March to June, the greenhouse is bursting at the seams with vegetable plants, flowers and spices. It is a time of year when there is little harvest, so that gives us time to develop this part which I like very much. We are happy to contribute to the happiness of amateur gardeners.
You also develop a range of products …
Yes, we produce herbal teas, oils, vinegars and flavored salts, pestos, tomato coulis, candied cherry tomatoes. All in organic farming of course. The idea is to diversify and produce small quantities of each while ensuring super quality. The range is doomed to expand and especially to adapt to what wants to grow with us!
How do you mainly sell them?
We are on the Salies-de-Béarn market and we supply cooperative stores such as Larrunkoop (Urrugne and Ciboure) and Hendaiakoop (Hendaye). We are coming soon to L’Epicier Bio in Bayonne. We also want to collaborate this year with restaurateurs. There is also of course direct selling, and it is imperative that we do our online sales site! But it’s too hard to go back behind a computer…
How is a day with la Fermière et l’Épicurien?
It depends and it is very varied. Our days are never alike! Most of the time, we don’t even know what’s going to happen … Either we sow, or we plant, or we love each other, or we take care of the soil, or we build, or we repair, or we are in a kitchen to process our products, either we get up early, or we get up late, or we have a 14-hour day, or we take a nap, or we will help a friend farmer, or we bring Jeanne to school, or friends come to help us, etc. In any case, it has been going on for two years and we never tire of it.
Does it sound like what you imagined? Are there moments of discouragement …? Great joys too …
It’s even better than we imagined. We discover another part of ourselves, we face challenges all the time. Moments of discouragement? Well not yet! It is certainly harsh and ungrateful at times, but being outside all day changes a lot: you contemplate, you observe, you discover and you understand. Finally, we think we understand! One thing is certain, we are part of a big whole and that is rather wonderful.
This confinement prompted producers to consider new operating methods to ensure the link with the consumer, what was yours?
In barely ten days, the Lekukoa farmer relay set up to organize drives throughout the Basque Country. Then, we communicated a lot on social networks and it worked very well for the plants. It was a big logistics for us, but in the end a huge time saving compared to the time usually spent on the markets. We will start again next year, with or without virus!
What do you think of this united impulse and these “alternative” modes of consumption?
It’s wonderful to see more and more people concerned with the way they consume. Going to market or going directly to producers is very restrictive for workers, and we could see during confinement that as soon as everyone can take the time to live, it is possible to avoid large areas. It is up to us, farmers and producers, to facilitate these consumption methods even more.
If tomorrow I told you I wanted to get started, what advice would you give me?
Elise: Believe in your dreams, do not be discouraged by the fears of others, have a good touch of madness and a husband who has his feet on the ground, can be transformed into an agricultural machine. Dream big, but go little by little. Be ready to adapt to all situations.
Xavier: To read books that deal with acceptance and letting go … And to observe, observe and observe again. Theory is useful, but there is no substitute for field observation.
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