The Good Life? Maybe But the Tresor Public Doesn’t Take Eggs As a Tax Payment

Becoming self-sufficient in these troubled times is a laudable aspiration – and a dream for many burying themselves in rural France — but reality kicks-in when it becomes clear that a dozen eggs and half a sheep won’t cut it as a payment at the Tresor Public (the French tax office).


Paris runs a competition for the grower of the biggest urban pumpkin grown on city kerbsides

Paris runs a competition for the grower of the biggest urban pumpkin grown on city kerbsides

Here our nature correspondent Mike Alexander assesses the pro and cons of a movement that has attracted many off-the-griders to the French countryside.

In the mid seventies the television series The Good Life became one of the most popular sitcoms in the United Kingdom by taking a tongue in cheek look at a fictitious suburban couple’s often hilarious attempts at self sufficiency in a back garden in suburban London.

The desire to go “self-sufficient” is much broader than one would at first imagine and you only have to bring up the subject at a dinner party to see how widespread the dream is.

Whilst perhaps not wishing to attempt to take on the full challenge of self sufficiency, many of the foreigners who move to France have aspirations to produce much of their own produce and become smallholders or homesteaders as the Americans call it.

I have never worked out whether this as a result of some primeval desire that lies deep within the hearts of many of us or if it is an attempt to escape the constraints of modern society that we now find ourselves bound by.

Whether you use the term smallholder or homesteader, the movement predates Barbara and Tom Goods efforts at “the good life” by many years.

In the early sixties back yard farming was becoming popular in both the UK and the USA. There are dozens of magazines devoted to the subject and John Jackson’s book A Little Piece of England detailing his experience as a smallholder has just been republished for a second time.

Despite the title this book offers some delightful insights that are just as relevant to would be smallholders in France as they would be to those England.

In reality the term “self-sufficient” is almost unachievable in a modern day setting. We live in a cash-driven, materialistic world in which even if you were to start weaving your own lambs’ wool clothing and powering you car on pig manure, you will still need some cash income to pay the ever-increasing charges levied by government. A few dozen eggs and half a sheep just won’t cut it with the Tresor Public.

That said, there are few things more rewarding than sitting down to a meal where every ingredient on the plate is the result of your own labour and knowing at the same time that the pantry is full of jars of home preserved produce.

If you’re thinking of taking the leap into the world of the semi self-sufficient then I would make one recommendation. Start small.

A vegetable patch can produce a large array of edible goods that will always taste – to their producer at least – better than anything you can buy at the local supermarché.

The most common cause of failure to sustain this good life is an underestimation of just how much work is involved in weeding, watering and defending your tomatoes, carrots and runner beans against bugs.

Urban pumpkins? Yes they will grow almost anywhere if you tend to them

Urban pumpkins? Yes they will grow almost anywhere if you tend to them

Then should you step onto the road of livestock husbandry you find yourself in the same boat as many French farmers — ever more committed and unless you have a really good relationship with your neighbours the curtailment of those holidays and occasional weekends away.

A few laying hens are not that difficult to look after. The eggs will be delicious and the chickens are great at converting kitchen scraps into compost. Rabbits are another popular choice for the back yard farmer but I found slaughtering so unpleasant that, though very fond of their meat, I abandoned that project altogether. Hopefully you are less of a wimp than me.

Due to sheer scale of size it is extremely difficult to produce anything at a price that competes with large volume industrial farming. But on the upside you will know exactly what chemicals were or were not used on your food and know that you have contributed to reducing the mileage travelled between field and plate.

So weigh things up carefully before plunging out there and ploughing up that hectare of untended field you bought when you moved to La France Profonde, start small and gear up as your experience develops or you might find yourself faced with an overwhelming mountain of tasks and much regret about starting in the first place.

That said there are plenty of schemes across France where individuals but more commonly, small communities, are working together to feed and clothe themselves as independently as possible.

French News Online has reported previously on some of these schemes:
Pumpkins Sprout From Paris Kerbsides;
Help Yourself it’s Free Incredible Edible Food;
Honey With a Whiff of Parfum de Paris;
WWOOF – An Organic Bite to that Holiday.
While each September France celebrates its great gastronomic traditions: September is Fête de la Gastronomie Time,

In the Bois de Vincennes Paris, urban farmers are blossoming  (Credit Wikipedia)

In the Bois de Vincennes Paris, urban farmers are blossoming (Credit Wikipedia)

Meanwhile here is a recent report in Rue 89 of another project started by people in Paris keen to get back to the soil in the heart of Europe’s most sophisticated capital city:

“In Paris on a 600 m2 plot in the Bois de Vincennes a communal vegetable association — V’île fertile — is betting on micro-agriculture to feed city dwellers. The urban farm is run on a self-management and ecological basis and uses horse manure from the nearby stables of the Republican Guard to fertilise the poor soil on the plot. The aim is to produce quality fresh food in a locale that is close to the end consumer – the urban city dwellers. The reason, according to Raphael Luce, a long-time green activist and one of those involved in the project, is simply because “it is essential that we feed ourselves properly”.

“The V’île fertile community were among the winners in a 2013 call by Paris municipality for proposals for the “innovative greening” of the capital.

“Another group participating in the Paris project is Planet Lilas, an urban farm located in Vitry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne). Five volunteers from AMAP (an association for the maintenance of peasant agriculture) run this voluntary project and now with some twenty committed members they produce more than 150 food baskets each month which they sell to a willing public.”

Writer: Mike Alexander
Follow Mike on Twitter 

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