“An engineering diploma and I give up everything to settle in a farm where I will plant vegetables on a three hectare site: my family was surprised when I announced my conversion. As soon as I got my diploma, I was embarked on a cycle, with professional opportunities that I could not refuse. For five years, I worked as an electronics engineer in military weapons at Thales, a company specializing in the manufacture of missiles for the various army corps. Then, I joined MBDA (an industrial company in the aeronautics sector), where I worked for seven years, before resigning in 2021.
The health crisis was not a trigger. During my studies, I already had in the back of my mind the wish to set up my own business. The idea of the sector took shape much later. For a while, I cherished the project of becoming a pastry chef. Then, I helped my brother to set up his landscaping firm, in particular for the administrative part, invoicing, accounting… Which was very educational and subsequently helped me in my own retraining.
I was looking for an ecologically virtuous profession. I could have turned to the recovery of food waste or small-scale energy production, but it was ultimately market gardening that imposed itself. It seemed to me to be a good compromise from the point of view of financial investment and speed of the outlets.
Self-taught market gardener
With my partner, we wanted to settle in a “triangle” between Nantes, Tours and La Rochelle (where my partner has family), with the imperative of a TGV station within a radius of around 30 km. She wanted to continue her teleworking activity, so she had to travel to the London region from time to time.
One day, during the holidays, luck would have it that we broke down on the A10 motorway, near Châtellerault (Vienne). We took the opportunity to visit the farms for sale nearby. That's how we ended up finding the farm we live in today, in Chaumussay, in Indre-et-Loire.
I did not follow an academic training like the BPREA (Professional certificate of farm manager). I trained and I still train through existing literature, training provided by the Regional Group of Organic Farmers, of which I am a part, or online. I also learn from my successes and failures on the job.
Dependent on weather and technical hazards
I practice organic farming. I use organic fertilizers and in no case synthetic herbicides, pesticides or insecticides.
In my job, there is no typical day. I am dependent on the weather, the delivery days and sometimes also technical problems. In summer, I take advantage of the cool morning temperatures for the tasks that require the most physical effort. In the afternoon, I concentrate on deliveries, cleaning vegetables, weeding… When it rains, I do bookkeeping, planning or purchasing raw materials (compost, potting soil, seeds…).
From November to February, there is very little to do outside because the grounds are soaked with water and the density of vegetables produced is less. I dedicate the winter to repairing machines, and especially to following training courses given by the group of organic farmers in my region: Bio Center.
A company with a well-thought-out project
I sometimes find myself faced with a little dizzying situations that I am alone to have to manage. At first, when our setup was completed and our friends who had come to help us left, I remember finding myself facing an area the size of six football fields and feeling dizzy. I was going to have to generate a turnover of around 40,000 to 50,000 Pounds, growing tomatoes and zucchini from this vast area covered with meadow. The goal seemed unattainable.
When I was an engineer I just had to walk the walk, I had written processes and if I made mistakes we took them on collectively with my colleagues. From now on, I am the sole master on board. There are days when it is magical and others when it is more difficult, such as the last few months which have been particularly rainy.
We can sometimes see on social networks photos a little “cliché” of the market gardener all smiles in his plots with his magnificent tomatoes. The reality is not so ideal. You have to get up very early, even when the weather is not nice, it's Sunday or the harvests are not as good as I expected. I exercise on my own and if I don't get up in the morning, no one will do the work for me.
Above all, we must not imagine that this is a profession in which we can embark on “headlong”. I won't be profitable for two or three years. For now, all the money earned is reinvested in equipment, machines, plans, seeds… Personally, I see my activity as a real business. It's far from gardening!
Develop new cultures and diversify
For now, I market my vegetables through Biocoop (a network of organic stores in Châtellerault and Poitiers) and “La Ruche Qui Dit Oui” (a web interface that puts individuals in contact with producers). I have the feeling that I am doing a really useful job, the impact of which I can measure every day, especially when customers give me positive feedback on my vegetables. It balances the heart.
In the short term, I plan to continue my learning and capitalize on vegetables that have worked well this year to redo them next year, such as radishes or zucchini, which are relatively easy to grow. I would also like to improve my lettuce and Chinese cabbage crop starting next fall.
In the longer term, I also plan to diversify. I recently set up an orchard which should produce different varieties of fruit within two or three years (apples, pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, etc.). Other projects in the process of being realized: breeding laying hens, growing endives and other varieties of mushrooms. “
SERIES – “THE NEO-PAYSANS”
After years in the air, in the army or in business, they left everything to settle in the countryside … and work the land. They tell us about their 180 degree conversion.
Episode 1 – “Air hostess for five years, I now raise organic hens”
Episode 3 – “Business engineer by training, I now have my farm in permaculture” (08/18/21)
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