What is the Little by Little Garden Co-op?
The aim of the co-op is to tend towards self-management of food by growing fruit and vegetables. This allows everyone to take part in the production of healthy fruit and vegetables in season; a concept close to organic growing, respecting the environment as much as possible. The members are both consumers and producers of the vegetables.
Where did the idea come from?
This garden co-op was inspired by many trips abroad during which Anne-Charlotte Thureau and Laurent Hamelin – the founders of the garden – got trained in organic farming. The internal structure of this garden was strongly inspired by the experience they got in Spain, when living in the co-op « Hortigas », based in Granada. The two founders still go back there from time to time to share their new experiences. In practice, we can say that the Co-op is the result of years of friends coming together, helping each other, lending some land or a few tools or sharing their know-how, as well as a great deal of creativity, building this “garden” from scratch. The outcome is that, by 2013, twenty « gardeners » were already part of what was to become a legally recognized organization. Today, the co-op counts about forty active members, from Mezieres-sous-Lavardin – the small village in North Sarthe, where the lands of the gardens are situated – and Le Mans.
In a society based on mass consumption, people buy food without knowing anything about the product they are buying: its origins, method of production or the actual cost to the producer. In a world in which time is money, we have come to ignore the rhythm of the seasons and the diversity in our food got lost on the way. We don't know much about imports and exports, about the impact of the production on the environment – groundwater contamination, loss of biodiversity, bio-contamination – or on society – loss of knowledge, rural exodus. Members of the Garden Co-op Little by Little want to get closer to their own land, take the time to go back to a simple, healthy way of life
What are the values we cherish?
At the root of this Co-op are several projects melt into one.
> A « food project »: Producing healthy vegetables, respect the seasons, learn how to garden, provide space for a general discussion on ways to consume better, to build sustainable alternatives.
> A social project: Developing a network of producers, associations and individuals. This co-op works as a process of “community spirit”. Not only as its members work together on a common project, but also in so far as the vegetables and any resulting knowledge are made available to them. Barter, mutual aid, group purchases, events, carpooling... Networking is essential here. Similarly, the garden also fulfils an educational function in learning how to garden. Members transmit their know-how on agro-ecological techniques to kids and new members.
> An environmental project: The ecological mindset is at the root of this project. The land is made available by locals. The exclusive use of traditional skills and natural products and treatments enables us to benefit from our land at its best. We use animal traction, working with two Percheron horses and three donkeys. Special attention is also paid to combining vegetables and plants so as to keep the balance of the land and facilitate “natural” growth and “treatment”. A recycling system was also set up to promote the recycling of various materials (wood, metal, etc), which are used to build storage or living spaces, for example.
How does it work?
All of the members of the co-op agree to come and work at the garden at least one day every five weeks. We have two cultivated grounds (altogether 6,000 m2), in Mézières-sous-Lavardin and in Sainte-Sabine-sur-Longève. All harvested vegetables are free for the members. The monthly fee to be a member is 25 euros; this money helps to keep up with operating costs. Then, every Tuesday evening, the weekly vegetable harvest is divided equally among the members, who gather on this occasion, usually at someone’s house or in a public square. Not only do they get their vegetables, they also read the newsletter of the garden and discuss potential issues. Because within this group, everyone has a say. All members are invited to attend various meetings, where we discuss the agricultural planning, the economic management of the garden, communication, events, etc. The Collectif thrives on the participation of each and everyone. Furthermore, thanks to the idea of participative democracy and consensus, everyone is brought to question his or her own social commitment. Members learn to find their place in the debate.
Who are the members?
So far, the garden has about forty members: young people, retirees; they are working, unemployed; they live in the country, in the city… They all share this eagerness to “consume” differently, to share and learn. This multitude of backgrounds and profiles provides an inexhaustible source of self-fulfillment. Thanks to their differences, every member has something to give to the others and something to receive from them. An essential exchange of expertise and knowledge. As there is something for everyone, the Garden Co-op Little by Little is happy to frequently welcome new members.