Posted on Feb 8, 2021 2021 at 7:00
“Originally from the North of London, I met Etienne in 2008. At the time, we were students in an engineering school specializing in wood, in Epinal (Vosges). Once we graduated, we moved to Plérin, in the Côtes-d’Armor, where Etienne grew up. He was hired as an engineer in a design office and dimensioned wooden frames for industrial buildings. I joined a structure to which communities of municipalities adhere. I was working to develop local wood industries.
In 2017, we both turned 30. We have been working at our respective jobs for seven years. We had a permanent contract, a good situation. But Etienne could no longer keep still and he saw no prospects for development. I had interesting assignments but I spent two hours a day in the car to and from work. We were entering the decade in which we saw ourselves starting a family, but the pace we had was not sustainable. We were thinking of changing our professional life that year, without really knowing how or in what area. What we were sure of was that entrepreneurship attracted us.
At the end of July, a friend sent Etienne an article which mentioned a call for projects to be the only inhabitants of the island of Quéménès. This island, which is 1,300 meters long and 300 wide, is 9 km by boat from the mainland. It is not connected there by regular shuttles. Purchased in 2003 by the Conservatoire du littoral from a family that owned it, it welcomed a couple between 2008 and 2017. They cultivated potatoes and seaweed there, raised sheep and had guest rooms. Following their departure, the Conservatory was looking for their successors. Those who would take over had, among other things, to commit to maintaining and preserving the island and welcoming the public there.
Etienne was immediately very excited and forwarded the email to me. When I opened it, I burst out laughing because, at the time, becoming peasants when we had no knowledge of agriculture and living alone on an island seemed absurd to me. A few weeks later, we made part of a road to Santiago de Compostela. This walk was an opportunity to reflect on it… and to come to the conclusion that this project could be done for us!
At the end of August, the Conservatory organized a site visit. Charmed by this exceptional living environment associated with the opportunity to undertake both, we submitted our file. Our project: to create our company in organic farming and take over the guest house. In October, our application was selected among around 40 others.
Etienne negotiated a contractual termination and I was able to benefit from a dismissal. We did not want to resign because that meant giving up on support from Pôle Emploi. However, we knew that our project could not work, that we could not like it, that it was a big risk-taking!
Organic farming and welcoming visitors
We officially moved in in May 2018, after dozens of round trips by boat to transport our things. We rent this island from the Conservatory. This includes buildings, land, and a boat.
We have since started our farming business and trained on the job in farming. We grow several varieties of potatoes, garlic, onions and shallots and sell our harvest on the continent to organic stores, delicatessens and early vegetables. To do this, we load our production on our boat and head for Le Conquet, a town about twenty minutes away when the sea is good. Once at the port, we deliver our customers with our van and a trailer.
We also raise around ten hens and around thirty sheep, which help maintain the island by grazing, and produce lamb meat. We have also started harvesting algae.
At the same time, we offer three-day stays in guest rooms and table d’hôtes on the farm, with a capacity of ten people accommodated in three rooms. Without this activity, we would not have embarked on the adventure. It was essential, for us, to meet people, to share the life of a small organic farm and to make discover the island.
Anticipate and deal with the weather
As islanders, we are dependent on the weather. When the sea is too rough, we sometimes postpone our deliveries for a day or two to take no risk. At the end of October, when we say goodbye to the last guests of the season, we know that travel will be rarer due to the weather. This period allows us to rest to resume our activities at 200% in the spring.
Loneliness is not heavy. We take advantage of this tranquility to recharge our batteries. It is also part of the charm, the experience and the rhythm that nature imposes on us. When we have free time, Etienne likes to go fishing, while I take the opportunity to read. We are geographically isolated, but we keep in touch with our families and friends thanks to the telephone and the Internet.
Sometimes we go several weeks without seeing anyone. Last February, we spent almost four weeks in a row without leaving the island because the weather was too capricious.
Obviously, living alone on an island requires a lot of organization. When you forget the plate of butter, it’s impossible to go to the neighbor’s house to be lent (laughs). The nearest inhabitants are about fifteen minutes by boat, on the island of Molène. So, we learned to anticipate… or to do without.
When Etienne delivers our production to the continent, we take the opportunity to do our shopping. We take fruits and vegetables for at least a week, cheese for 15 days, meat for a month that we freeze… Obviously, when we ask for half a wheel of cheese, it surprises! We also have a large stock of dry groceries at home. This allows us to vary potatoes and fish!
We also pay attention to our water and electricity resources, for which we are autonomous. Electricity is generated by photovoltaic panels and a wind turbine installed on the island. We use filtered rainwater to shower, wash our clothes… On the other hand, the water we drink is bottled. This is obviously not ideal because it requires a lot of resources and generates waste, but unfortunately we are not able to regularly carry out bacteriological analyzes on the water at our station, and we preferred not to take any risk. Life on an island is made of compromises….
A taste for entrepreneurship
Our predecessors came as a couple and left… with two children. Having children and living with them on the island is a project. But until now, our priority has been to develop our activity so that our business is economically viable. This is the case today.
We are committed to the Conservatory to stay on the island until 2027. If we want to shorten our stay here, we can, by paying the rent for the current year. And if we want to extend it, in agreement with the Conservatory, we have priority.
We do not know what our future will be like, but since we have tasted the life of an entrepreneur, we have not seen ourselves returning to a salaried setting. On a personal level, this experience has allowed us to see that we can live simply thanks to the riches that nature offers us if we take care of it. “