Now that I have finally settled down at the Petit Ane Bleu, I think it is time for a comparitive look at the two locations I have visited thus far. Let’s begin with the Moulin Ruel.
If you have not been following the blog for a long period of time, the Moulin Ruel is the name of the first farm I visited this summer. In retrospect, the best way to describe it would be a small, hobby farm owned by an older couple. With the money earned from a retirement pension and a part-time job, Christine and Alain Blancart raise a small number of animals and grow an equally small garden. THe goal of the overall operation is a movement towards economic self-sufficiency. By growing vegetables, making cheese and jam, repairing old cars, and building their own animal lodgings, the couple avoids excessive consumption and reduces their overall ecological impact.
In comparison, the Petit Ane Bleu is a much larger farm coupled with a tourism business that allows Denis and Hind Bigliardi (a much younger couple with children) to live. Originally, the farm was an organic fruit and vegetable producer, but when a few difficult years ruined their crops and finances, the couple decided to focus on a donkey-guided hiking company that earns enough money to keep the farm going. Today, the produce grown is devoted to personal consumption, feeding clients, selling homemade jam, and maintaining the animals. Thus, the farm does represent a functional organic farm even if the funding comes from the side business.
One other crucial distinction is that the Petit Ane Bleu is part of a “table d’hôte” or “host’s table” organization which brings customers to the farm to share homecooked meals, to exchange conversation, and to learn about organic farms. Often, a hike includes several days of travel with a stop at a different “host’s table” each night. In this sense, the Petit Ane Bleu may have a larger societal impact because it reaches out to a naive clientele and show them the joys, tastes, and difficulties of the profession.
Considering the tourist-driven aspect of this farm, I must admit that I was quite upset when I first discovered the client-focused goal of the farm. Fortunately, I am beginning to realize that the lesson this farm (and Alain Blancart’s pension) embody is that organic farming is quite expensive and requires a lot of work. For it to succeed, the consumers themselves must be willing to accept a high price to help small farmers compete against massive agribusiness firms. Thus, for us, it means we need to devote a bigger portion of our income to our food budget, a trend that many healthier societies show. With luck, the joy of tasting a true vine-ripened tomatoe or a cut of meat from a grass-fed cow will be enough to persuade some, but a larger movement needs to occur and that requires a bit more reflection on my part. To begin, however, this summer while you have the chance, try to taste a true, locally and organically produced food and let me know what you think.