Charles Hervé-Gruyer, pioneer of permaculture and resilience: “the food garden is probably the most useful act we can do for the planet”

Charles Hervé-Gruyer is one of the pioneers of permaculture in France. For decades, at the Bec Hellouin farm, he has been striving to demonstrate the effectiveness of agriculture that respects nature and the seasons. Charles Hervé-Gruyer now offers a series of practical guides dedicated to resilience. Books from the Resiliences collection Ulmer editionswhich deal with concrete themes such as the food garden, the raising of hens, the constitution of firewood or the construction of crop mounds, are based on his experience on the farm of Bec Hellouin. This interview is an opportunity to discuss with Charles Hervé-Gruyer the meaning of resilience and the contributions of autonomy and permaculture to the environment and to humans, both individually and collectively.

Why publish a collection of resilience guides now?

This collection focuses on resilience in the broad sense. Becoming resilient affects all aspects of our lifestyles whether we live in the city or in the countryside. I am inspired by the permaculture ethic of caring for the Earth and human beings while sharing fairly. I think these are the 3 pillars of resilience. We must take care of our wonderful and unique planet, of us human beings who are going to be more and more abused by the crises. Sharing also means leaving a planet intact for future generations, but that is not the path humanity is taking at the moment. It is clear that institutions and large companies are moving a little, but no doubt quickly come to terms with, in particular, the challenges of climate change. It is therefore up to us, humble citizens, to take charge of our lives by embarking on an ecological transition process. This transition must be joyful in order to invent lives that resemble our dreams. This collection of guides is intended as a toolbox that aims to support readers in their transition. With around thirty books, everyone will be able to find the gateway to the resilience that suits them best. And thus achieve, by small steps or by big steps, to lighten its ecological footprint.

Do the current crises (environment and climate, Covid, war in Ukraine, energy prices) that we are going through reinforce your convictions on resilience and autonomy thanks to permaculture?

Indeed, as a farmer at the Bec Hellouin farm, I am seeing more and more climate disruptions that manifest themselves in late frosts, droughts, floods or even heat waves. Producing becomes more and more difficult. However, we are only in Normandy in 2022. What will it be like in the decades to come in other regions, such as the southern regions?

” VSCreating a food garden or a micro-farm is a really positive act. »

This worries me, yet at the same time I think we are still in a period of relative stability and prosperity. Rather than living like little birds without thinking about tomorrow, I believe we need to invest our energy in preparing for the future by creating resilient lifestyles, habitats, places, farms and resilient gardens. They will be likely to help local communities withstand future shocks.

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A majority of French people do not feel concerned, but for the fraction, say the 10 to 30% who feel involved and ready to make a profound change in their way of life, the best time to act is now. Because, I think it will be too late in 2030.

You insist on the fact that your cultivation methods aim to do without fossil fuels as much as possible, how?

The food garden is probably the most useful act we can do for the planet. Many actions for the planet are above all “don’ts”. These are prohibitions such as not flying, driving less, eating less meat, etc. However, creating a food garden or a micro-farm is a really positive act. At Bec Hellouin, the ten scientific studies carried out on permaculture methods or bio-inspired cultures show that we are winners on all fronts, that is to say that the garden turns out to be 10 times more productive per unit. surface without a drop of oil while, at the same time, the organic carbon content increases by up to 10% per year. The fact that the garden thus turns out to be more productive has made it possible to free up more space for trees, animals, ponds, hedges, forest-gardens. We have seen biodiversity explode. Nature is a fabulous pool of solutions. Drawing inspiration from them makes it possible to emerge from the top of the current crises because these methods reduce the withdrawals of fresh water and the need for oil or gas.

The garden is 10 times more productive per unit area without a drop of oil. »

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Does cultivating a food garden also mean devoting a lot of time to your vegetable garden or food garden? For example, how long for a family of 2 adults and 2 children?

Creating a food garden for a family does not require a lot of time. Moreover, it brings a lot of joy, satisfaction and savings. To feed themselves, one hour a day over the year is enough to meet all their food needs in fruit and vegetables and, eggs can be added if you add the products of a small barnyard.

What personal satisfaction can one experience by committing to the paths of resilience and permaculture?

Actively committing to the planet, not just through one’s garden, gives meaning to our lives. Helping to screw up the only planet we have doesn’t make anyone happy, because we live with a latent feeling of guilt. We all want to leave the best to our children and those we love. Committing to the common good, ours, that of our children and our community, of the birds, of the earthworms, of the ladybugs and of all living beings, is extremely satisfying and fulfilling. This leads to broadening our perception of the needs of all forms of life. We are all connected. But, we as human beings have a special responsibility to care for the world by being stewards of this Earth for all life forms. We can do it at the local level by putting our hands in the ground with a lot of respect.

The Bec Hellouin farm in Normandy © © Clément Thier

Do you have any advice for people interested in taking the path of resilience by putting their hands in the ground?

You should know that it is not difficult. You have to start by putting your hands in the ground and learning. Becoming independent is a demanding path that requires a lot of knowledge, but you can progress step by step, and at your own pace, especially since the knowledge and know-how exist. There are many good books and guides, however we must not forget that knowledge can be transmitted through exchange. It is true that in the past there was this tradition of transmission within families because all the elders had their gardens. It is therefore necessary to reclaim forgotten but available knowledge. What’s more, it’s great, there is new knowledge that we didn’t have in the past thanks to progress in the life sciences. The functioning of soils, water, carbon and nitrogen cycles are better understood. And, on a concrete level, we have easier access to high-performance tools and diversified seeds. Everyone can therefore have all the assets to succeed.

“Each of us is full of talents that he can put at the service of the common good. »

And, if we live in town, how do we do it?

In the city, the range of possibilities is much wider than you might imagine. You can grow aromatic plants and sprouted seeds in your kitchen. The book “My nourishing balcony in permaculture – Abundant harvests on 4 m²” by Valéry Tsimba gives examples of what can be created in a small space. It’s a teeming jungle with dozens of varieties of vegetables. Otherwise, there are shared gardens and if you don’t have access to them, it is always possible to go see elected officials to develop urban agriculture. You should never believe that it is impossible. You have to go there to dare to transform the city and make it more pleasant for everyone.

Do you have a last word?

It seems to me that ecology is not a punishment. On the contrary, ecology is taking care of living things. The latter is sumptuous, it fills us with wonder. We are too used to being Earthlings, we don’t realize that we are lucky enough to live in a small bubble of life lost in the interstellar void. Each of us is responsible for a small portion of this one living planet. The nobility of humanity and human dignity reside in the preservation of this jewel which has been entrusted to us. It may sound like big words, but the best way to embody this vision is to take action for the planet. Each of us is full of talents that he can put to the service of the common good., and I think we are bound to it in view of the degradation of the world. Getting involved will leave a beautiful world to future generations.

Interview by Julien Leprovost

For further,
The site of the Bec Hellouin farm by Charles Hervé-Gruyer and the Resiliences collection Ulmer editions.

You are interested in food and sustainable agriculture, know that the GoodPlanet Foundation offers you more information on the subject thanks to the GoodPlanet school and also with her cooking recipes.

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Charles Hervé-Gruyer, pioneer of permaculture and resilience: “the food garden is probably the most useful act we can do for the planet”

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