The Farm of Bec Hellouin is a small bio-intensive farm in Normandy. It was born from two tenacious wills, Charles and Perrine’ . At the beginning of the journey, the wish to reconnect with Nature, to be self-sufficient and their quest of harmony, sense and beauty were leitmotivs of these two lovers of Nature, who didn’t have any particular bound to farming.
Coming from the city, their quest for daily and simple pleasures – like a ray of sunshine that tickles the nose, leaving home to pick up fruits and vegetables from the garden, looking out of the window and letting themselves been caught by the boil of the landscape in front of them – pushed them to settle in the countryside and start this adventure.
A bit like coming back to their roots, they had sweet and crazy views about the way they would create their farm. Among them, three spoke to me a lot.
The one and only mistress : Nature
Taking Nature as a model is the essence of the philosophy of the Bec Hellouin. It is also a basic principle of Permaculture. Taking the time to observe how Nature works, to understand how ecosystems operate and draw from them, allow us to discover the fundamental lessons that Nature teaches.
Plus, observing Nature offers us the opportunity to become aware that everything is connected: by taking care of the earth, we take care of ourselves. By harvesting from the Nature only what we need, we enter into a virtuous circle and become the guardians of a vital balance. Charles speaks of a “positive spiral in where what is good for Nature is good for us, human beings, because we are Nature” (1).
Leaving the beaten path, imagine its own one
Charles and Perrine’ ambition was to “put the human hand back to the heart of the farming process” (2). Get out of the industrialized agriculture also, leave aside the mechanized one and therefore be independent of fossil-fuel energy. Actually, devoting ourselves to a way of farming which is performed, day after day, by hundreds of thousands small farmers all around the Earth.
To achieve this aim, one of their main objectives was to perform an agriculture as natural as possible on a small land. The premise is to be able to produce as much as possible on a very small area, with the absolute respect for Mother-Earth. To succeed in this challenge, two ingredients are essential :
Open the mind by collecting ideas from different theoretical, practical, traditional, or scientific sources: permaculture, biodynamics, natural farming, agroecology, ancestral knowledges…The goal is to combine knowledge by taking from each of them what is useful, efficient, or meaningful. As Charles says “We look for the best of several words. We take the best of the past, the best of contemporary scientific research to try to imagine what could be the next step” (3).
Always try out without the fear of failure because mistakes are rigorous teachers. For example, match crops which have different cycles, which grow at different level to play on their complementary so that they help each other. But before finding the perfect match for a specific soil, several tests may be necessary.
In the field of micro-agriculture, working with hands is a strong advantage to accomplish many tasks that are impossible to do with a machine, for example, densify (sow different rows of seeds with a very small distance between the rows). Skillful and agiled hands will take infinitely more care of the crops while respecting the soil and living beings who live there.
Reconnect with our sixth sense: Intuition
Trust our little inner voice who tells us to make this choice rather than another. Actually, just making up with our own intuition. For Charles “As soon as we venture in a complex system, our analytical ability starts to skid, because there are so many parameters to take into consideration. This is where intuition turns out to be a very effective tool to understand reality. There are not ten variables in our equation but thousands of them. But that’s ok. We do not try to control everything, we only try to allow life to spread out its magic”. (4)
After two days spent at the Farm to contemplate this microcosm of singular beauty, to discuss with these men and women who, every single day, take care of their land and of all living beings, I fully understood the sentence of Charles: “Farmers of tomorrow will be the guardians of life, their farms will be beautiful, consistent, healing places” (5).
1 Interview of Charles, November 2017.
2 Permaculture - Guérir la Terre, Nourrir les Hommes, 2017, Perrine et Charles HERVE-GRUYER, Domaine du possible, Actes sud, second edition.
3 Interview of Charles, November 2017.
4 Interview of Charles, November 2017.
5 Permaculture - Guérir la Terre, Nourrir les Hommes, 2017, Perrine et Charles HERVE-GRUYER, Domaine du possible, Actes sud, second edition.