“Ex-school teacher, I am now an oyster farmer in Charente-Maritime”

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“This is what we call a complete reconversion. Until recently, I was a school teacher in Lorraine. I didn't have a class of my own. For seven years, I did replacements, from the small section to CM2, in several establishments in the department.

At 30, nostalgic for my Charente lands that I left as a teenager, I wanted to change my life for a happier daily life, in the great outdoors. At the time, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I am very perfectionist and demanding of myself, but also of my little students. I take things too seriously.

The turning point came in the summer of 2021 when I met the man who would become the father of my children, Thomas Leblan. He is an organic market gardener, originally from Lorraine and established on his own in the Meuse for almost seven years.

I tell him that I dream of working with my feet in the water, and he then pushes me to get started, to rethink everything. I then tell him about Charente-Maritime where I grew up and its flagship products, oysters and salicornia, an edible plant that grows naturally in the marshes.

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He also wants to go elsewhere and is ready to discover Charente-Maritime. For both of us, our meeting is timely.

Discovery of the profession of refiners

We then decided to set up a project together to settle on the edge of the Atlantic. During our research which lasted two years, we discovered the world of oyster refining. This is the last stage of breeding before sale.

This has today become the heart of our activity: we refine the oysters that our suppliers raise in the open sea. Once they reach their adult size, we place them in what we call ‘clears', areas of shellfish production consisting of a basin dug in clay soil: a former salt marsh with a controlled seawater supply. A specificity of the territory.

This maturation period – from a few weeks to several months – determines the nature of their flesh. For example, a ‘fine de claire' oyster remains submerged for a shorter time (a few weeks) than ‘spéciales de claire' (a few months). Their difference is in fact their ‘flesh content': that is to say that the “clear specials” are fleshier.

No banks, but love money

Unfortunately, as we were not in the profession, nor did we come from a family of oyster farmers, the banks did not support us when we really wanted to get started in 2022. We therefore had to take out a loan from our relatives to buy our three hectares of marshland (including around ten clear ones) where we now cultivate oysters and the cabin where we prepare the baskets.

DR

Once the money was found, I also had to convince the human resources of National Education to sign my contractual termination – a system recently adapted to the civil service. I was apprehensive but luckily I met all the criteria: relatively young, I am far from retirement, I have a concrete and successful project for a new career. I was sure of myself: I really wanted to become an operating manager, that is to say 100% manager of our business. And if they hadn't accepted, I would have resigned.

In any case, for me, being a teacher was not a passion job. I have good memories of school as a child but that may not be enough to keep me going. I was tired of that life, driving between classes, preparing for lessons… I wanted a change of environment but in my case, it was impossible to be transferred to the seaside (not enough points accumulated).

3 months of mandatory training

Between January and March 2023, I will still be returning to school… among the students. My partner and I are following a three-month compulsory training course for oyster farmers at the Center for Professional Training and Agricultural Promotion (CFPPA) at the Lycée de la mer et du littoral in Bourcefranc-le-Chapus, in Charente-Maritime. We learn a lot and we validate what we have learned in the field.

Because not having an oyster diploma did not prevent us from starting the operation. My partner having been independent, he already had the necessary knowledge (accounting, management, administration, etc.) to create our business. And then, contrary to what the bankers had predicted, our farm neighbors and the former owners helped us a lot during the winter of 2022, during our first season.

Oysters, clears and samphire

Since then, my daily life has changed enormously. During the oyster season, we work a lot: as the coastal market is saturated, every two weeks, we travel more than 800 km and go by truck to Lorraine to go to the markets (Thursday to Sunday). We kept our house up there, it's more comfortable. On weekends, sales days generally start at 6 a.m. and end at 1 p.m., even if there are extras (loading, stand dismantling, stock, checkout, etc.). Thursdays and Fridays we work until 7 p.m. And during the season, we also hold one-off events such as Christmas markets or fairs.

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Even if we do not have the Marennes Oléron appellation, to be identified we benefit from communication supports around the Charente territory thanks to a collective of oyster farmers grouped around the HCM brand of which we are part.

During the summer, we grow samphire – our own ‘gherkins'! We sold our first jars this year! should sell our first jars next year.

For the moment, we are not earning a salary, we are living off my unemployment benefits and my husband's savings. But nothing alarming, it takes at least two years to become profitable. And then, we manage to repay our debts!

The life of a business leader is stressful, of course, but nothing like the stress of before. Working for yourself and outdoors is much less stressful than a routine, indoor job where you drive to and from work. Today, I no longer go to work with a knot in my stomach, and that's quite extraordinary.

Sometimes, when I'm too tired, I raise my head and look around me… The setting is so beautiful! Then, I look at my feet, finally in the water. »

To note

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Conclusion

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