Charles and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer decided to become low impact farmers in 2006. It was a long and difficult initiation. He had been a sailor, she an international lawyer; their efforts to grow food without mechanisation or chemicals were often ridiculed in the early years. But their farm in Normandy, Bec Hellouin, is now established as the premier permaculture farm in France. It is also the source of a number of scientific studies showing that it’s possible to make a living wage by growing food using permaculture techniques on just a quarter of an acre of land. Their book “Miraculous Abundance” was recently published in English. Alexis Rowell, a stalwart of the early Transition movement in the UK and author of the Transition book on local government, interviewed them on behalf of Transition Culture.
Alexis Rowell, a stalwart of the early Transition movement in the UK and author of the Transition book on local government, interviewed them on behalf of Transition Culture.
What motivated you to become farmers? Charles, you were a sailor; Perrine, you were an international lawyer. That’s a long way from the world of agriculture!
Charles: Personally, I always dreamed of being a farmer, but I grew up in Paris where everybody told me that it wasn’t possible for a Parisian to become a farmer so, by default, I became a sailor! And when I had my school-boat [a French version of Operation Raleigh allowing young people to travel the world in an educational setting] we shared the life of many farming communities, mostly in the global south. And after years and years of spending time with these farmers I was almost jealous of the intimacy they had with nature. I wanted to discover for myself this intimacy with nature. And with Perrine we were determined to be politically engaged, to do something for the planet, for humanity, without taking ourselves too seriously.
Perrine: We started our personal transition and family transition at the same time. The first door we went through was self-sufficiency. I liked that idea very much. Producing the food for a family of two children (now four), doing as much as possible for ourselves, household cleaning products, cosmetics, personal hygiene products – that was more or less the ambition. When, in 2006, Charles said he’d really like to work the land, I said ok even though I absolutely didn’t get it, or rather I didn’t see myself doing it. I told myself it was passing phase, that he’d get over it. But he persevered and it was so hard he had to do so many things that I felt obliged to give him a hand, and soon we became 100% engaged, without, if I‘m honest, me being totally happy at the start. For sure we were in organic agriculture, we were using animal traction, but the sense of it all was missing for me. From 2006 to 2008 it was chaotic and then in 2008 it was in a chance email that we discovered permaculture and that made sense because it reconciled our desire to be politically active but for a cause.