Yesterday I met Jean-Pierre Caumont at the Montcuq market and bought some of his wine. This morning I drove to his farm to film an interview with him, most likely my only farmer interview in France and the last on this journey. Jean-Pierre comes from a farming family in the village of Escayrac. He went to University but was drawn back to the land and now farms farms 60ha of cropping land and 3.5ha of wine grapes with his wife, Claire. They also own about 40ha of forest land for biodiversity and aesthetic benefits. Jean-Pierre has always felt an affinity with nature, but farmed conventionally for many years. Increasingly he saw the effects of intensive use of chemicals and also began experiencing more chaotic weather patterns. So he decided to move towards an organic production system. The term ‘organic’ or ‘biologique’ in French, is one that he and his wife, Claire, have been cautious in using. They are people who are simply passionate about the land and the environment and don’t really like to be labelled in a particular way. Over the last 20 years Jean-Pierre has noticed more extreme weather events, more unpredictability with rainfall, and higher temperatures. Hotter summers are being reflected in increased alcohol content of wines in the region. He perceives greater challenges in the future with cropping than with the wine grapes. The deep-rooting of the vines enables them to withstand drought, for example. His experience is that with organic soil management, biodiversity protection and diversity of production they have a greater capacity to buffer against climatic extremes. Both Jean-Pierre and Claire are strongly committed to protecting local biodiversity, demonstrated by the fact that they recently bought a neighbouring piece of woodland to prevent another would-be buyer from clear-felling it.
If you live somewhere in Europe and want to support a couple of very dedicated people by purchasing their wine you will be able to find out about them over the web in the future. The name of their farm is Le Pech d’Auzonne. You can get mail order wine by writing to them: Claire and Jean-Pierre Caumont, Escayrac, 46800 Montcuq, France.
After leaving Chichilianne we drove west and then south to the village of St. Cyprien to stay with Janet Hulse, the elder sister of my good friend Julia. Along the way we stopped for a night in another small village in the Puy de Dome region, south of Clermont-Ferrand. We’re now at Janet’s place near St. Cyprien, in the south central area of France. Tomorrow I am meeting with a local farmer who I met at the market this morning. This may well be my last interview on this journey.
We have done a lot of travelling but I have managed some interactions with people as well as continued to reflect on lessons from this journey. I have talked increasingly about the importance of finding ways of working harmoniously with our earth, with the natural world. This concern is shared by the well know British scientist, James Lovelock, who developed the so-called Gaia hypothesis. However our views differ on how we might work harmoniously. In his recent book “The revenge of Gaia” he expressed his concerns about the state of the earth and suggested a planned retreat of humans from nature as part of the solution, with a focus away from agriculture and towards synthetic food production. I disagreed with this view before and disagree even more strongly now. The many people we have met in different places and their very positive actions support a different approach that is focused on an intelligent and heart-felt re-engagement with nature. Everything we have, all of the wonderful and undesirable results of the industrial revolution and our modern technological revolution, have been derived from the earth in some form or another. We cannot so easily retreat as Lovelock thinks. At the same time I totally agree that we need to do something. Fortunately there are people who are acting, and we need to pay attention to them. I look to the leader of the Karen village in northern Thailand and his very smart 16 year old daughter, to the Buddhist monk north of Bangkok, to the work of Ajarn Yak in Thailand, to a wise 78 year old man in northern Viet Nam, to wise local leaders in Nepal, to the work of Sekem in Egypt, and more recently to the inherent understanding of our place in landscape, in nature, that is still visible in parts of Europe and in the work of the best farmers here.
In the parts of Italy we visited, Switzerland, and now in France we see landscapes where there is a history of understanding the importance of forest and water management. In all the places we’ve been in these countries I have seen hills covered with trees that in New Zealand and many parts of Asia have been stripped bare. In Switzerland, water catchment areas are forested. In New Zealand, when I gave a talk to a Regional Council a couple of years ago I was considered naïve to suggest that planting trees was the most important thing we could be doing as a response (adaptation and mitigation) to climate change. Everywhere I’ve been, every place I’ve seen, every person I have spoken to over the last four months has reinforced this view. In Europe I see the legacy of centuries of understanding the importance of managing whole landscapes. We don’t have this legacy in New Zealand. What we do have is a freedom of choice that many other countries and people do not have any more. But for how much longer?
It is very clear to me now that there is a great, unrealised, opportunity to develop truly effective responses to climate and other global changes by simply opening our eyes and ears to the very good things that people are already doing all over the world. In fact I believe we must do this. Things are now moving too fast for the politicians and scientists to keep up. People are already acting, some are already well ahead in their work and thinking.
From Dornach we drove to Grenoble in France and then south to the tiny village of Chichiliannes, near Clelles. The place we stayed in was recommended by a French friend in New Zealand who had lived and worked in this area. We stayed here for two nights so that we could visit a place called Terre Vivante. This organisation has existed since 1979 when the magazine ‘Les Quatre Saisons’ was launched by seven passionate ecologists. In 1994 they began the development of a ‘discovery centre’ focused on demonstrating practical ecology. We visited this centre, with its blend of forest walks, gardens and demonstration sites, on a day when a bus load of school children were there to explore, experience and learn. Their presence strongly reinforced the value of providing a living learning environment for all age groups, aimed at demonstrating positive, attainable, actions for a sustainable and resilient 21st century.
In the evening I met with Remy Bacher, the editor of Les Quatres Saisons magazine. I told him how impressed I was with the Terre Vivante centre. It is an excellent educational and resource centre with practical examples of the very simple, local, solutions to many of the environmental problems we have in the world. I also talked about the importance of local people who provide leadership and an example for others to follow. This has been evident everywhere we have been. Remy said that not just Terre Vivante is providing an example for the rest of France, but increasingly the Trieves area as a whole, in the Rhone Alps where Terre Vivante is located. More and more people are aware of the work of Terre Vivante, of the high proportion of organic farmers in the area, and of a very beautiful and well balanced environment.