Philippe creates an organic idyll

CHARLES ROBERTS It was one of those perfect French hamlets, down a long country lane, and bathed in sunshine. Not perfect in the sense of beautifully preserved old buildings, an idyllic setting in peace and quiet.


It was one of those perfect French hamlets, down a long country lane, and bathed in sunshine. Not perfect in the sense of beautifully preserved old buildings, an idyllic setting in peace and quiet.

But for the perfection of a watercolour painting which appeared not to have been disturbed in years, here, I thought, a man could settle down happily for the rest of his days.

Right on cue, the man in question appeared and introduced himself - Philippe Massière, sometime worker in French Youth Services, who decided there was something more in life to fit his skills and aspirations.

He and his wife were in Paris when the thought began to take shape, to create his own business.

"As I had some knowledge in ecology, plants in general, and especially as I had a large interest in medieval and health remedies through plants, I arrived here, at the farmhouse," Philippe relates. "This has been a long journey. Not always direct... but it is what corresponds to my passions."

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After three years spent preparing and building his project, and undergoing training to complete his knowledge, in 2001 he arrived in the house of the hamlet of Le Pradeau in Pouzioux, near Chauvigny, together with an old farmhouse and two hectares of land. This he cultivated with aromatic and medicinal plants… that is to say, plants to be dried and used for cooking and for herbal teas.

Then he created a range of plant syrups. These were followed by wines flavoured with plants. Latterly, he was working on vegetable oils flavoured with plants.

All that represented such a volume of work that he could not face it alone. "So I proposed to two of my acquaintances, Johan and Cedric, to join me - it was about September, two years ago. A year earlier we founded together a French "SCOP" (Société Coopérative de Production) in which we are at the same time associated and employed.

"So the daily work at the farm and the responsibilities and the benefits (eventually) are shared between us."

Now, in addition to all that, they are also producing organic vegetables which are exclusively sold to a group of consumers - a cooperative of customers - situated not far from Poitiers.

Every Thursday they take to them in their homes the organic vegetables produced during the week. Supplies go to about 50 families… say 70 people.

The weather has not helped Philippe and his friends this year… too much rain.

"Some plants have not produced as much as could have been expected. Some others lost their aroma. It has been quite complicated. Now we have an extension of 2,000 sq m that we maintain as a meadow. It's only about five kilometres from here, in Valdivienne, where an old gentleman rents to me a field of 7,000 sq m.

"At this place we essentially produce onions, garlic, shallots, peas… some melons this year. Here at the farm, 5/6000 sq m are cultivated with vegetables."

Johan, whose grandmother lives in the nearby village of Thiat, has about four hectares to cultivate, also by organic methods.

Here all is organic cultures. The previous farmer was only breeding cows, about 10 of them, and was cultivating cereals. But at this time, it was only for home consumption: the cereals were eaten by the cows, and a share went to a handful of pigs.

"And it is because of this kind of farming," says Philippe emphatically, "that we have been able to be immediately classified as organic production.

"We never use any chemical products or chemical fertilisers. We have others methods to feed the plants. We feed the earth to feed the plants. We produce our own compost. It will go into the earth, will be transformed in humus and this humus will capture all the necessary elements to give them back to the plants… and also by using the farming method of culture rotation".

All this is Memory Lane to me.

Back in Norfolk, a good 12 years ago, I was visiting about 10 organic producers for a series of articles on the subject - and returning home laden with splendid fruit and veg. And often I was elated by the enthusiasm both of the producers and of the customers.

It is a subject of interest still to a wide audience, which is why I shall return in the column next week to Philippe Massière's idyll.