One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World
By Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer
This book was recommended to me by the lovely Collette from Ashurst Organics, an organic farm down the road from us.
It’s a beautiful and inspiring book that stirs things up in the agricultural system. It shows that a different way of farming – based on small farms and permaculture – is not only possible but is the way to a more positive future. This book is not a technical manual on permaculture that explains how to start a micro-farm, but a book full of inspiration and meaning, to be read like a novel. The authors give an overview of techniques they use, share many ideas and above all, write about a philosophy of living and farming. It is a great complement to more technical books on permaculture or market gardening.
The authors, Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer, take us through their own journey in this book. Without having any background in farming, this French couple embarked on a journey to start a regenerative micro-farm in France on a quarter of an acre. They travelled the world to learn about different farming methods. Over the years, they transformed a small unpromising field into an abundant ecosystem and market garden, using innovative techniques inspired by their learnings. They tell us about their challenging beginnings, their naivety and their experience with various experiments such as forest gardens and bio-intensive market gardening. Inspired by the principles of permaculture – understanding nature to replicate it, not control it – and their creativity, innovations and experiments, they created an abundant ecosystem. A virtuous cycle established on their farm when the ecosystem found its balance through the symbiosis of all elements. One’s waste becomes one’s resource, one’s predators become another’s pollinators, one’s pest becomes another’s food. La Ferme du Bec Hellouin became not only a regenerative ecosystem but also a productive and profitable farm. It has now become a reference in the micro-farming, natural agriculture and permaculture sector. Their farm also continues to be a true outdoor laboratory where they keep experimenting with different techniques and undertake many studies. One of them was a three-year study that showed that a small piece of land (a quarter of an acre) could be sufficient to provide a full time employment for one market gardener using hand tools and bio-intensive market gardening techniques inspired by permaculture.
This book provides a “philosophie de vie” – a philosophy of life or ethos – about farming. It looks at permaculture as a way of living and thinking that goes beyond farming. The book goes into different topics such as permaculture, biointensive micro-agriculture, 19th century parisian market gardens, forest gardens, hand tools, microfarms and the impact of microag on society and the planet. Although some of these topics are not covered in much depth, the book is very well referenced which makes it easy to go and pick into the references to learn more about any technicalities or concept mentioned in the book.
The last third of the book covers important questions about society and encourages the reader to question the current systems. Throughout the book, the authors outline the flaws in the current agricultural system. This book offers a radical change from intensive industrial farming reliant on chemicals and machinery which damages the soil, wildlife, ecosystem and our health. It provides a shift in paradigm in the way we farm and makes us see that a positive future is possible and desirable in agriculture.
This new ‘old way’ of farming – based on micro-farms and regenerative farming techniques – can build the soil and protect the ecosystem providing nutritious food. The book shows the importance of this way of farming a social, economic and ecological perspective. It offers a new perspective on the future and brings hope and optimism and will undoubtedly leave anyone who reads it excited about the future and wanting to start their own permaculture micro-farm!
I hope this book resonates with many others as much as it did with me.
La Ferme du Bec Hellouin: https://www.fermedubec.com/
Ashurst Organics: https://www.ashurst-organics.com/