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After living almost 20 years abroad, I decided to get closer to my roots after the pandemic. I returned to Charente-Maritime region, in France, where the family home is located, in the countryside. It was then that I discovered that our new neighbors, Olivier, Corinne and their daughter, were ultra-friendly and, IN ADDITION, they founded a farm and potager (vegetable garden) in the region, which became very popular and allows us to enjoy living, fresh and organic food all year long !
And for the little anecdote, the name COOL Potager is Corinne’s “CO” and Olivier’s “OL”.
1) Who are you, where are you from and what is your background?
My name is Olivier, I’m 46, I’m from Alsace, and we have an 11-year-old daughter with my wife Corinne. My background is 10 years of technical translations, 3 years as a craftsman in the construction industry (Public Works Building) in ecological renovation, and a working with the potager since 2016.
2) When and why did you decide to found COOL Potager?
I launched it in 2016. After a professional accident, we decided to move to another region. It was in 2014. In the spring of 2015, I had a heart attack.
It was a revelation… it was time to slow down, to get back to what was vital, important, desirable, useful. The profession of farmer was a suggestion from my friends, given my experience in self-sufficient permaculture. I had an epiphany ! I had to do what I liked the most and no longer what was “expected” of me. Something that made sense ! Something that makes you work 70 hours a week and you don’t feel like you’re working.
3) Tell us a bit about the mission and vision of COOL Potager!
I’m not going on a crusade to try to convince other people to do this or that thing. I do what I like, as I like it. I’m free. If it speaks to people and they want to do the same, it’s COOL, but it’s not a goal in itself. The main idea is to feed my family in a healthy way and sell what’s left!
The principle here, in cultural techniques, is to intervene only if it is really necessary and to work with nature, rather than against it. We don’t till the soil, we let the life of the soil do the work for us. We do not use any phytosanitary product, even authorized in organic. After 3 years on these plots, I think we are reaching the goal. The ground has never been so alive, supple and seems to be starting to really change in texture and color. It’s magic!
On the other hand, I make it a point of honor to only grow varieties that are not found in stores. I have 17 varieties of tomatoes, none of which are red. We have short brown cucumbers, or round yellow cucumbers, but no long green ones. I also try to introduce very, very little-known vegetables. And no seed is hybrid. 100% organic, 100% reproducible. We produce 95% of our plants and seedlings.
4) What does your typical day look like at the COOL Potager, what are your main daily activities (according to the seasons)?
In spring and fall, it’s 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Sunday. In summer, 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. then 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A typical day is caring for animals and welcoming trainees when I have them, among other things. But there is no ”action-type”. We do a lot of different things during the day. 1 hour of sowing, then transplanting, then pruning, weeding, adding organic matter, breaks, photos to document the farm’s Facebook page, walks in the gardens to take the time to listen to vegetables growing…
In winter, we add shredded material to the plots to prepare for the following season. This represents approximately 150 to 200 cubic meters to carry, move and spread.
We manage to take 15 days of vacation, from December 15th to January 1st, but with the animals, it’s impossible to move for the moment. And even if we could, it is not certain that we would want to. We feel good here !
5) What values conveys the COOL Potager and why is it important for you to transmit them?
I try to do things as best as possible, by being as natural as possible, by intervening as little as possible and by remaining faithful to my environmental and ”degrowthist” convictions. I believe that we no longer have much choice… At a time when there is a farmer who commits suicide every 3 days in France and when everyone says that we have to change things, on our scale, we do it, like hummingbirds. We hope to show that another way is possible, a way where the farmer is no longer cornered by debt, in this era of always more, always bigger, always more polluting.
I hope we can feel it during visits to the farm !
6) Customers, business partners, trainees… who are they? Tell us a bit about your work environment!
I supply 6 fine dining restaurants, including one Michelin star and one Gault & Millau award winner, as well as around 30 people on our weekly mailing list. They seem quite happy! As for the chefs, they are professionals very committed to the local approach and respect for the seasons. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with them, because many adapt their menu according to what we have available. It’s less stress and a great way to work. And with some of them, I even collect their kitchen waste, just to close the loop. There are some who have been by my side since the beginning, even before I started planting, when it was only a question of crowdfunding to be able to set me up.
As for the trainees, there are all ages… the youngest is 14 years old, the oldest 52 years old. All have one thing in common: they want to become farmers, and most of them want to use organic farming techniques that respect the life of the soil. A few days here help to see the positive impact of our practices!
In short, I am lucky to be surrounded by lots of great people, all of whom contribute to the preservation of an agriculture focused towards the survival of our specie.
7) How do you see the future for COOL Potager?
It’s the main concern of my activity: the future is never certain! Nature has its own timeline, which is not necessarily ours. I see myself doing this until the end… and I hope that Mother Nature wishes the same thing for me! And for the future, the plan is to continue to diversify our potential sources of income, in order to sustain the farm and to respond to contingencies.
Facebook page of COOL Potager :
Pictures : Hélène Chebroux & COOL Potager