In the blog she started last year, Margaux Bounine-Cabalé has been chronicling her ‘Tour de France’ of natural farming in city and countryside alike: permaculture, organic farming, hydroponics and so on. After four months, she is constantly amazed at the wide range of pioneers and their fresh approach to farming. Their size and methods may vary, but the underlying idea is always to work in harmony with our natural environment. We talked to her.
Danone: What lies behind this “Tour de France”?
Margaux Bounine-Cabalé (MBC): My experience in South America, which included nine months as an eco-volunteer. I became aware how agriculture crosses all boundaries, and makes it possible to actively protect biodiversity, health, social bonds, the economy and education all at once.
After various stays in organic farms, I realized that I was perfectly in tune with this approach and that I really ought to start something myself. But first I needed hands-on training. With every farm I’ve visited during this Tour de France, I’ve learned about permaculture, market gardening, organic breeding, biodynamics and beekeeping through my contact with professionals.
Then, in view of today’s environmental issues, I wanted to use the tour to communicate my discoveries in a joyful and positive way. As an individual, I try to pass on messages and awaken the curiosity of people who aren’t necessarily interested in these subjects.
D: You’ve been on the road since May 2016. After more than eight months observing and learning, what do you feel are the main approaches for renewing agriculture?
MBC: It’s clear to me that future farming solutions lie in proximity. We need to reinvent economic models that are more firmly rooted in our immediate surroundings, responding to different requirements in terms of employment, biodiversity and sustainability.
And to ensure environmentally-friendly production, using a range of solutions and techniques will gradually change the trend, so that we can turn our backs on essentially chemical-based farming.
So far, the most exciting aspect of my Tour de France has precisely been the diversity of farms and the solutions they have started to use. I have seen farms of every size, which may be specialized or diversified, individual or collective, urban or rural. It’s really inspiring to see so many people endeavoring to reinvent agricultural models. My Tour de France would last ten years if I were to meet all these pioneers!
D: Have you discovered any new environmentally-friendly farming techniques on your informative wanderings?
MBC: Not really, although new and ingenious hand tools have often been created by pooling local know-how. But the future agriculture festival, Futur en Beauce, shortly taking place at Châteaudun, is sure to reveal new things. I’ve also learnt a lot about hydroponics, a soil-less method where plants are fed solely on water and nutrients. I wasn’t convinced by this technique at all, but people involved in the Sourciers project in the Gers changed my mind, because the water circulates in a closed circuit. Hydroponics has a lot to offer in an urban environment, because it makes it possible to grow good-quality food in decent quantities. Current techniques are very often inspired by ancient methods. The hydroponics we are now rediscovering was in fact used by the Incas and Aztecs! However, we have adapted it to the present day by using it in greenhouses or in cities.
In fact, the most important thing for renewing agricultural methods involves learning to live with nature again. Current thinking is helping us to re-establish our links with it, and understand how it makes us breathe, how it feeds us and how it makes us happy. I think all innovation needs to be based on how our natural environment functions.
D: Your original idea was to start up an urban micro-farm. Has your Tour de France given you the tools to do this, or changed your approach?
MBC: In terms of professional plans, I am now aiming for something else involving more space and a collective approach. I’m very much inspired by a model I discovered in the field at the Bec Hellouin farm in Normandy. Here, Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer have successfully created a self-protecting, self-regulating ecosystem, following the rules of permaculture (a « conceptual system inspired by the way nature works », which has « created (…) harmonious, sustainable ecosystems for hundreds of millions of years, » as they explain on their site). It took them around ten years, but they have developed a place that is ecologically productive.
The model I dream of putting into action will thus involve a plot of land with several activities. So I would run the market gardening, someone else would be in charge of livestock, someone else would focus on beekeeping, there’d be a farmer/baker, and so on. Because all these complementary activities optimize each other’s resources and waste, thus creating a virtuous model. For example, it has been proved that beekeepers’ bees increase the yield of market gardens because they pollinate the vegetables grown there.
The main difficulty will arise from the need to work together. Living in a collective is something we are no longer used to.
D: Where do you think the true sense of Happycultors lies?
MBC: In showing that this ecological transformation can be a joyful experience! We don’t all have to take up farming or live in the country. But integrating nature into our daily lives and consuming differently is within everyone’s reach, and paves the way to further joys, which may be simpler but are just as beneficial…