Somewhere in the Hauts-de-France (North of France), Abdel, Jennifer and their family are reforging life with permaculture. Abdel does a lot of manual work which is required to turn the crops into food. Jennifer plans and organizes the markets, the deliveries and she also teaches lessons to their children. Before they started their farming adventure, there is the story of a transition…
From Paris to the fields of Normandy
Jennifer was an executive assistant. Abdel, who spent his childhood and adolescence farming in Algeria, was a mechanic. They spent around 15 years in Paris, the capital of France, with the children, the race for money and the stress. Then, the couple felt they needed a change of lifestyle. “I spent my time earning money to pay a nanny … then I realized something was wrong”, says Jennifer, a former language teacher. “Also, the apartment was not ideal for the children,” adds Abdel. ”They needed to spend their energy and be mind blown with excitement.” For Abdel and Jennifer, the decision was clear: the city was not suitable for living as a family and a deeper need was awakening within themselves. Jennifer is a daughter of a French farmer and Abdel spent his entire childhood growing plants back in Algeria, and so moving away from urban life became an obvious choice for the couple.
A new home
“When we found the house and the land, I visited the house first,” tells Jennifer, “but Abdel went directly to the land without having a glance at the house, and he mentioned that there was so much work to do in the fields.”
In 2013, which was the year of transition for the couple, they moved to Normandy. By the end of the year, Abdel focused completely on the farm and quit his profession as mechanic. Today, there is a small pond which collects water from the slope – perfect for watering the crops in spring. Chickens eat the root-eating caterpillars and provide eggs for the family. Cats chase away field mice and all kinds of rodents. The dog stays alert. Here, Life attracts Life.
When a tractor crosses the neighboring field, Abdel feels annoyed. A machine like that could cost around €200,000. That’s a huge debt. “Many farmers choose to use machinery. It’s mainly because they’ve been taught to do it that way”, argues Abdel. Farming has been giving way to business for quite some time. “Farmers are like businessmen on tractors who touch the fields only with wheels,” says Jennifer. “With this money, I could hire two workers for several years, and create even more life, and participate in an ecosystem that lives up to its name,” explains Abdel.
Permaculture strengthens social bonding. “Instead of being alone in a cockpit, I share my knowledge with trainees and wwoofers*. We laugh and get tired together,” says Abdel. Farming is more than just producing food. It’s about meeting people, the disagreements, working in silence and creating friendships. You should see how Jennifer listens and counsels the people who order produce to be delivered. “People don’t just buy tomatoes with us, but also share happiness and exchange conversations,” she says.
Apart from conversations and smiles, the couple also produces beetroots, carrots, spinach, chard, radishes, onions, leeks, salads and celery – among other things over the course of the season.
Getting organized and taking action
When the family embarked on the journey of transitioning to community farming, they received no help from either the French government or from the European Union. They decided to farm on a small scale, with small tools and plenty of time dedicated on their part. “If you want to start this kind of farming, you don’t need money,” says Jennifer. “It’s very challenging. Getting up early, adapting to the seasons, feeding the family, teaching the children… I see our family as a team. It’s emotionally tiresome and very demanding because we do several roles during the year. I am aware of how lucky we are and I won’t change that.”
The work is so exhausting that at the end of the day people who work in the fields are very hungry. Spading, digging, planting seedlings whilst squatting, watering, harvesting – these are all kinds of activities that can be done in springtime for anywhere from 6 to 9 hours a day. If you tell Abdel that he is brave, he will tell you that it is the city dwellers who go back and forth between home and work who are the bravest!
My engagement with Abdel and Jennifer was full of admiration for courage and humbleness of people who are hardly aware of having created an oasis. A place where barriers fall down. We roll up our sleeves to try to imitate the brave farmers, or at least to help them.
– An article by Lucas De Pinho
* The author has shared his experiences after spending two weeks as a “WWOOF”-er (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) at a farm in Normandy that is based on permaculture principles.
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