On the Feet of our Farmers: BÉrÉnice De GouvilleWords by Lillie Elliott
March 29, 2021
Bérénice is a third-generation farmer based in the Landes region of southwestern France. The daughter of Eric who we interviewed here about his farming experiences, she has been farming with her father for two years. She has started her journey into farming with a particular focus on organic crop production and warns us to think about what organic means when we shop.
What does organic farming mean to you?
For me organic farming is another way of thinking about the land, trying to respect it and consuming it in a way that does not damage it for future generations. From my experience in both organic and conventional farming, I became interested in the differences between these two ways of doing things and realised that we have not yet mastered this method of organic production. We do not have all the answers to the questions, so I set out to find them.
French consumers trust organic product but do not ask the right questions when making that decision to buy organic. I would ask if they know:
- Where does my organic product come from?
- Do I know the meaning of each organic logo on the label?
- Does this way of growing organic products fit my way of thinking?
- Is it more important for me to consume organic or local?
- Do I really know the differences between organic and conventional farming?
- Did I make a decision based on the media or was I able to learn first-hand from the main stakeholders (farmers, market gardeners, etc.)
Much of the produce in French supermarkets comes from farmers in France, but they also from elsewhere in Europe. The specifications for organic farming vary based on each country’s rules. There is still a European regulation, but each country adapts it a little in its own way.
What are the differences in everyday life when making organic or conventional?
Organic farming requires a lot of organisation as well as a keen sense of observation, the risk of losing the crop is also much higher as we don’t use conventional fertilisers. Organic crop production is far more labour intensive when compared to a conventional crop. You have to weed by hand and cant use insecticides or herbicides.
This along with the longer growing time on crops mean that it is a much more expensive method of production.
Why did you choose to grow organic green beans?
My father and I are always looking for new challenges. He started growing organic green beans shortly before I started working on the farm. It was brand new to us, with a very small plot (1ha), we harvested by hand, sorted, and shipped within 24 hours to the market.
It was a challenge that I enjoyed, I decided to focus on this activity in order to develop it as much as possible, gain experience and some autonomy on the farm. Producing fresh, organic, good quality vegetables while respecting the soil is what motivated me in this adventure!
What are the benefits/issues you face with organic farming?
- I can further my knowledge and have a real understanding on organic crop production.
- The joy of growing and cultivating a healthy French product from seed to vegetable
- It is very expensive (expensive products, labour to be used, working time multiplied by two or more) so control of the cost difficult to manage.
- No emergency solution (or very little) in case of uncontrolled grass, disease, or insect attack.
- Conventional farmers can use pesticides whereas we do not have this option.
What does the future hold for your farm?
In the years to come, I would like to develop new organic crops, such as potatoes, blueberries, strawberries. I would like to teach others about the importance of consuming local food and not necessarily organic because, in my non-organic produce, my vegetables have zero traces of pesticide after analysis.
In the longer term, I would like to develop the farm by planting fruit trees, house chickens for eggs, a few meat cows in addition to everything I already have. All this would help me become as independent as possible as it would enable me to produce and use my own fertilizer, grow cereal crops to feed my animals to form a closed production cycle.
Our footwear is incredibly important because we spend an enormous amount of time walking. The boots I am wearing now are leather-lined, which is great as they keep my feet warm and have moulded brilliantly to my feet. In our work we spend a lot of time crouching down, bending over – we are always moving. This rubber is particularly flexible, so it is very comfortable – your feet feel great in farming boots that are designed for long days.