When I moved here a few years ago, I became the owner of the garden and a couple of fields. I was very soon introduced to Monsieur Gary, the farmer who worked these two fields. M. Gary doesn't pay any rent for these fields as, under French law, it becomes complicated if he does, but as I have no desire to take on the task of managing them, I'm happy for him to relieve me of this work.
M. Gary is now 86 and recently, following a small heart attack, decided it was time to wind down his farming activities. Part of the winding down process was to return to my care one of the two fields he tended. This is the location of the new vegetable garden.
Over the years, we have become very friendly with M Gary and have, from time to time, been delighted by the gift of a melon or some other thing he has grown. M Gary tells me he isn't an organic farmer, he just doesn't use anything manufactured on his land, preferring his own compost, his own farmyard manure and saving, from one year to the next, his own seeds. He's not allowed to put the "Agricole Bio" symbol on his produce because he isn't licensed, but to my mind, he is just as much, if not more, of an organic farmer as anyone.
Because he has been farming in this area longer than I have been alive he has become a constant source of advice and information to me, and so it was, that when we decided we needed some old straw and some farmyard manure, Kate and I paid him a call.
Once we had made him understand our needs he quickly offered to drop off a bail of straw next time he was passing and he also said we were welcome to collect a trailer full of his farmyard manure, although it was fresh!!!!! Whilst we were chatting, Kate asked if he had any eggs but he sadly explained that he didn't have any available at the moment.
The next day we drove up into his farm where we found him standing in a hole almost as deep as he was tall. He explained that since our visit he had decided to make a new vegetable patch and that he was digging a hole to plant one of the trees that would form the periphery. He pointed to the others he had already planted and showed where the rest were going. We continued on our way and soon had a trailer full of straw and manure just waiting to be composted.
Back at the garden we were able to unload the trailer into the new compost bin we had built.... one of a row of four!!!
The next day we were again working in the garden when M Gary appeared with his tractor and our bail of straw.... I hadn't realised quite how big a commercial bale of straw is these days.... but we soon had it in position alongside the compost bins. In the conversation that followed, M Gary proudly announced that if we called up later that evening he would have some eggs for us.
As the afternoon's work drew to a close, Kate announced that she was off to make a curry and I decided this was a good time to go and collect our eggs.
As dusk fell I drove into his yard and saw him in a barn illuminated by two very old, very dim, light bulbs. This was a barn I had never been in before and I soon discovered why. As I walked in, M Gary was sitting on a low stool, on the far side of a large cow, which he was milking. I didn't even know he still owned any cows, but he soon informed me, as I watched him milk, that it was his last cow and that it was to go on Sunday, as he was no longer going to keep cows.
If I can manage it, I shall go to the farm tomorrow and watch M Gary milk his last cow for the last time. A tribute to a man who has farmed all his long life and is so much a part of our landscape.