22 August, 2017

They gotta be the luckiest dreamers who never quit dreamin'

Three years ago I wrote a post about my friends Margot and Christophe starting a sheep and vegetable farm in the middle of the Southern Alps. Having become a co-owner of the land they were using to let their sheep graze in the mountains, I had been feeling very guilty that I had not managed to go visit them for the yearly summer co-owners' meeting and lamb barbequeue. I was starting to fear that my friends and the other co-owners would start thinking I was a selfish and absent landowner, uninterested by the lives of the farmers on this bit of land I co-owned. So this year I hired a car and drove across France from the Pyrenees mountains into the Alps through the Cévennes, Lozère and Ardèche mountains in the centre of the country.

It was a beautiful road trip. I really enjoyed driving through the narrow windswept country and mountain roads. The landscape changed along the way East from agricultural fields to chestnut forests, pine and fir trees, and finally heather moorland just below the Mont Lozère. After dropping down into the Rhone Valley, I climbed back up into the Alps on the other side to enter lush valleys where farmers were growing the fodder their animals would need in the winter.

In Glandage, although the paperwork for our co-ownership land association has still not been finished, the association has already bought the land with the monies we all invested. Margot and Christophe have thus expanded their farm: 0.8 ha give organic vegetables. They supply local villagers, their children's school canteen and an organic shop in the main town of the valley. Thanks to the land all their friends co-invested in, they now have 70 ewes (three got killed by wolves just ten days ago!), which give birth to one or two lambs every winter. Likewise, the meat is sold in local marketing and processing networks. Margot also harvests the wool, which is of good enough quality to be processed into clothing yarn.

My friends' agricultural project is essentially of a social nature. They wish to make the most of their social and direct marketing networks to sell off their produce. But they seem to be fulfilled, very busy and, now in their third year, they can actually make a small monthly revenue to spend on something else than just the farm or the essentials to feed and nurture five lovely and lively children! Their plans for the farm still include finishing off the paperwork for our land association...

But, they are much more excited by the possibility of clearing the trees from the mountainous pasture land to open up more land to grass, and using the funds left over to buy another smaller plot of land closer to their house where they could have the sheep graze in the spring. Finally, another young couple from Switzerland has moved into the neighbouring house and would like to join Margot and Christophe's farm business to improve the vegetables' productivity and possibly open a small processing enterprise to add value to the produce.

I am keen to see how all this will develop in the coming years.

As long as we got each other (theme from Growing Pains)
B.J. Thomas, Midnight minute, Warner Bros/Wea

07 August, 2017

Aqueras montanhas

After two years of a rather disappointing professional experience at OECD in Paris, I have decided to change job completely. From data-based policy research and evaluation in an international organisation, I have just moved to Pau in Southwest France to head a team of 30 staff whose main role is to administer the activity of local farmers for the local representation of the French government. It is an exciting and challenging professional turnaround for me. This being a governmental position, I am bound once more by the code of conduct and secrecy of the French civil service. I will have to explore avenues for professional blogging when I get a better idea of my new professional environment.

In the meantime, the musical and culinary scene in Pau are not to be disdained.

First on food, I am in the heart of a region famous for its ewe's milk cheeses, spicy chilies, Blonde d'Aquitaine beef, maize grain-fed poultry products, cured ham and all kinds of pork-based delicacies, sweet cherries, and pastries galore... Local wines from the Southwest of France are increasingly improving their quality and Bordeaux is not far away for the snobbish drinkers. I am looking for accommodation close to the central Pau city market, open from 7.30am where I can find cheap local produce six days a week, with a farmers' market on Saturdays for an even wider selection of fresh food. So I am not at all worried about the food part of my new duty station. I am also now only two hours' drive from my parents' country house so I can always drive back home to enjoy my Mum's Asian cooking if I run out of good ideas on what to eat.

On the musical side, it is a bit quiet now in the heart of the summer holiday. Still, I went to hear a very good French gospel group last night. Although their English pronunciation was not always perfect, the New Gospel Family had intensity in their singing, perfect and sometimes excitingly blue harmonies, and the characteristic groove of this moving musical genre. This region also has a local tradition of singing in harmony, both in the Bearn and Basque country mountains so I look forward to being moved by the close harmonies of this traditional repertoire. I hope to audition for the choir of the Pau conservatoire, which sings with the regional symphonic orchestra when vocal parts are needed. I also discovered a local opera company close to my parents' house, which produces a new show every summer with amateur and professional singers and intrument players. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity to get back into a staged production.

And if all this fails to fulfil me, I have the Pyrenees mountains just 45 minutes' drive away for trekking, skiing and amazing vistas. So here it is goes for yet another new, colourful and delicious period in my life!

Aqueras montanhas
Occitan traditional song, Nadau Zenith de Pau 2017, Nadau