Interview with Julien Reynier and Fabrice Clerc from L'Atelier Paysan

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Draft translation by William Charlton, reviewed by Ann-Marie Ultratel, of an original interview in French, edited by Maïa Dereva.

Atelier Paysan, or 'farmer's workshop', is a French movement of organic farmers that created their own design commons for appropriate agricultural machines and buildings, and organizes collective workshops to build them.


Interview with Michel Bauwens with Julien Reynier and Fabrice Clerc from L'Atelier Paysan

L'Atelier Paysan is a French cooperative that works with farmers to design machines and buildings adapted to the specific practices of small farm agroecology. In addition to disseminating free plans on its website, L'Atelier Paysan organizes winter self-help training sessions, during which farmers train in metalworking and build tools with which they can then use on their own farms. L' Atelier Paysan works to build the technological independence of farmers by helping them to become more autonomous through learning and regaining knowledge and skills.

In market gardening, the beds on which crops grow are formed from long strips of land. Generally, little or no attention is paid to ground compacting by tractor wheels. In subsequent years, farmers will then try to grow on these tracks. The idea of ​​"permanent beds" is to form perennial growing beds so that the wheels of tractors always run in the same place. Tools are needed to form these mounds (crops on mounds warm up better in the sun, retain moisture better, and drain better).

Michel Bauwens: What was the origin of L' Atelier Paysan project?

Julien and Fabrice: the project was born in 2009 after a meeting between Joseph Templier, an organic market gardener from GAEC "Les Jardins du Temple" in Isère (south-eastern France, near the Alps), and Fabrice Clerc, Then a technician with the association of local development of organic agriculture Adabio, created in 1984 to help improve practices, find resources, share knowledge ....

Joseph and his colleagues used tools on the farm that are very relevant to the soil, especially adapted to an innovative cultural technique called "permanent beds". Many young farmers came to train in the techniques, the system and the organization of the "Jardins du Temple" and then to practice them on their farm, in their own projects. At the same time, Fabrice went to many farms in the Rhone Alpes to collect and disseminate knowledge and agrarian know-how. The idea of ​​Fabrice and Joseph was then to be able to spread widely the inventive tools used on this farm, crafted and assembled from recovered materials and refurbished old tools . To do this, it was necessary for some standardization, to be able to publish plans from which one can build the tools from parts and accessories that can be found at any hardware store.

MB: Your approach seems very pragmatic. Yet when I read through your website, it is also a very thoughtful approach (philosophical approach, political, ...). How did you move from one approach to another?

J & F: We have just put into words what is happening. A number of farmers in the Alps independently designed and built their own machines, adapted to their own needs. We have gathered and compiled all this into a guide. In the process of constructing this guide, it seemed useful to formalise our approach: first, an inventory of innovations on the ground, then answer the question "what's the meaning of all this?" Why have these bottom-up innovations, which were traditionally outsourced to the equipment manufacturing industry. So why was the farming world excluded from the design process? Whereas the farmer and the artisan of the village once built the machines needed, now farmers have disappeared from the chain of innovation. It is not only in the agricultural sector that this has happened: it's possible to build bridges with changes in other areas such as shared DIY (community?) workshops, and to think about Do It Yourself from the viewpoint of human/social (re)construction. For example, in Grenoble, there are about ten woodworking workshops with available machines and tools, or (initiatives d’auto-rénovation de lodgements) self-build housing initiatives. They are important factors for emancipation, inclusion and social reintegration. For the last 6 or 7 years, we have been thinking a lot about these issues. We don't want to just make machines. It is a total experience that consists of thinking about daily life and in the political approach it is requires.

Political discourse reflects a very strong social demand on the ground. The guide to self-construction is the first book we published in 2012. This is the sum of the first field census of sixteen machines adapted to organic market gardening.

These machines, which are low tech (construction, design) call for a very large craft know-how. They do not suffer comparison with high tech machines. Our machines are three to four times cheaper for an efficiency equal or superior to those of the trade. Why is not this search for autonomy more valued? This is the question of the technological sovereignty of the farmers.

It is something that comes back to fashion, reappropriated by the farmer militant milieu. The word "farmer" was until the 1980s a big word used to disqualify. Today, on the contrary, it means someone who is not only an extractor of agricultural raw materials but part of a terroir, connected to an ecosystem and a social life. The word "farmer" corresponds to the invention of a specialized, segmented profession. Today it is even called "producer", "operator", or "chief of exploitation". Industrial logic and economists invade agriculture.

MB: What are the project developments today?

J & F: the approach is open to the whole field of biological and farmer farming on a human scale. It started around organic market gardening, but it opens today to all sectors: arboriculture, breeding, viticulture ...

For example, we can accompany the re-design of livestock buildings, storage. For market gardeners who want to add to their production a little poultry farming, we are also working on the issue of mobile buildings.

Depending on the demands of the farmers' groups on the ground, our resource platform will be activated to co-design the tools adapted to the specific practices of organic and farmer farming. We want these tools to be used by conventional farmers to accompany them in a more autonomous and economical way. It is becoming increasingly credible because it is intended to be a tool available to all farmers. Most of our users are already in this process, but the technical principles developed aim to ensure that conventional farmers are no longer frightened by the demanding, know-how-based techniques of farmer agroecology.

The project started in 2009 at ADABIO, a local association of organic producers, but very quickly the process took on such a large scale that in 2011 a transitional association was created and converted into a cooperative in 2014: Farmer workshop. This human adventure leaves a very important place for the meeting. At each meeting, we took steps aside, chip jumps or big jumps. Today we are 11 permanent, and quite a lot of seasonal, as well as volunteers in civic service. Everyone comes with what he is. The approach is closely linked to what each person brings to it. We are very attentive to the requests that come to us, and we have more and more!

MB: What is your business model?

J & F: We operate 65% through self-financing and 35% from public funding. In our view, these are normal contributions to our effort to produce and disseminate common goods. We believe that we are in the public interest and that communities need to be involved. Unfortunately, with the reactionary right-wing coming to power in many places, these supports have been drastically reduced. However, we are relatively more secure than other structures, sometimes subsidized at 80%. The 65% self-financing comes from our self-build training activity. In France there are joint vocational training funds that can cover the cost of training. We also realize a margin on the grouped orders to supply the internships.

We will raise funds more and more with the citizens: if we want to change the agricultural / food model, the whole of society is concerned. That's why we have set up a partnership with a Citizens Solidarity endowment fund to collect donations and tax them. It is a mechanism that allows citizens to choose where their taxes are going. We want to make citizens aware of our work so that they can contribute to the economic sovereignty of the Farmer Workshop

MB: What is your relationship with other farmer or social movements?

J & F: Atelier Paysan is positioned as one of the actors of the alternative food project, an additional tool of the social and solidarity-based agricultural economy. As actors of this milieu, we naturally wanted to associate ourselves with the structures that represent the environment Agricultural, to make themselves known, so that they relay our information, our technical contents and to mix our different users. Moreover, the question of the agricultural machine was only very little dealt with by the existing structures.

Moreover, we have an awareness-raising activity, notably for one year, through the Inpact association, which brings together about ten associations at the national level. We have been the bearers of the technological sovereignty of the farmers in this context, in particular to document and denounce, on the one hand, the over-dimensioning of the farm production tool and, on the other hand, the introduction of Robotics, digital, with a program, means, public funding, and the support of techno-scientific circles.

At the international level, we are in the Via Campesina network . We participated in the 2nd Nyéléni forum on food sovereignty (in October 2016 in Romania) where we talked about agro-equipment, saying that there can be no food sovereignty without farmer technological sovereignty.

At the forum we met with Spaniards, Romanians, Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians, who are very interested in questions about the farmers' tool. We showed an exhibition with drawings, fact sheets that really appealed to people. It was not especially a field of exploration for these militants, and there, something happened. No one in Europe has yet set up a platform like that of the Farmer Workshop which allows to document and disseminate knowledge (data sheets, self-construction training ...).

We went to Quebec in January 2014 to organize a first self-build training in North America, with the CAPE (Ecological Proximity Farmers Cooperative) and the EPSH (vocational school), around the vibroplanche (permanent vegetable gardening). From now on, they autonomously program self-build courses from the shared tools on our website.

In the United States, we are connected with Farm Hack from the Greenhorns organization , itself formed by a young farmer union, the NYFC . They share tricks on suitable machinery via hackatons and open-hacking camps. They have not yet organized the training.

We also have discussions with the Land Workers Alliance in England: two years ago they organized the first Farmhack event where we went to present our work.

At home, a farmer can come to training and build his tool: it does not cost him very much thanks to the famous training funds and the grouped orders of materials and accessories. The work of metals, the use of tools (sort of after-sales service), reparations (using the machine and adapting it to their context in the form of versioning): this is the whole methodology that one envies To share. There is a very specific context in France, which means that a structure like ours can rely on still large public aid and shared professional funds to pay the internships (this is not the case in the USA, for example, which Must rely on private funds).

In general, our approach is total, that is what is exciting in this adventure. We are giving ourselves the means to advance this process, ourselves and with the other actors. From a practical point of view, to one is good, but to many one goes much further. We can think of political, economic issues, which is a factor of acceleration and efficiency. The question of the agricultural machine is a political and scientific thought. On the whole, on a whole bunch of questions, there is no scientific production. On April 5th we are organizing a seminar on technological sovereignty: we have struggled to find people who have declared themselves incompetent. These are questions they have never faced.

MB: What do you think of the "common" as a political concept?

J & F: We would like to be more advanced on this issue of common. We assume that the issue of food, like drinking water, breathing air, biodiversity, are essential to protect. In turn, the means to achieve it (know-how, agricultural lands, communal areas, techniques ...) must by definition be common, since this is the survival of our species. All the know-how and the knowledge of the farmers did not come ex nihilo: they come from sharing, poaching, shared innovation, open. We see as a scandal any attempt to confiscate technological solutions that could participate in another diet to goals of personal profitability. This is an issue that we are exploring and trying to pay attention to.

We are attentive to the legal regimes compatible with this issue of the common, to free licenses, to what could best reflect this willingness to share knowledge that we enrich by our community of users. If we use Creative Commons, we are always looking for the license that best expresses this willingness to share.

The starting material of our work, these are the tools developed by Joseph: he participated very much in the emergence of these communes. But if he tinkered only machines, he thought of them with a working group of farmers who wanted to adopt the innovative cultural technique of permanent boards. Its machines are designed in a collective. It is therefore the result of a whole lot of visits, pecking of knowledge and know-how in his peers. He had the talent and the energy to imagine and manufacture these machines. It is his way of contributing, like other militants.

MB: How do you see social change? The political atmosphere is not very positive for the change we want. Do you imagine working in a "hostile environment"? Is there a polished complement to your work?

J & F: There is a question of popular education. The first step of the document on the technological sovereignty of the farmers will participate in infusing the ideas with the users, the political partners, etc ... Some participants in our trainings do not take a long time to appropriate the ideas / techniques and disseminate them The same.

We are also starting to have quite a lot of feedback from researchers / thinkers, who congratulate us for coming on this unthought. This is our goal because we are not going to be able to produce everything: scientific studies, political thinking ... What partnerships can be set up to make common commons on these subjects? Additional shoulders can be found at the meetings. We do not have a strategy. There is nothing stronger than the ground to spread our way of doing things. The tidal wave will be less important, there will be no media buzz, no pretty teaser on a background of country music, but it is much more powerful. When people have tasted this ability of self-determination, there is a kind of landing without backtracking possible.

MB: Are there projects similar to yours but which you criticize and if so why? J & F : We are quite distant from a current carried by an individual like Open Source Ecology US with a beautiful trailer but that does not seem to us anchored in the real. None of the machines actually works ... It is a process of descending innovation that does not involve concrete users. They are engineers who imagine things a little on their own.

We are also distancing ourselves from fablabs, which may be starting-up melting pot rather than popular education. For us, a fablab must be a place of popular education and not of low cost technological experimentation for the industry.

We are in Grenoble, the cradle of nanotechnology. Here, the fablab is funded by industry and advanced technology. So there is fablab and fablab ... (woodworking, pedal machines, ...), and they are generally inversely media to the quality of what is produced. It takes funding to run a fablab. In 2013, those who won the call for projects from the Ministry of the Digital Economy are not those who make popular education. How to finance the general interest? More broadly, if we mean by fablab laboratories of innovation open and shared in human processes, there are tens of thousands in France. There are ecocentres, third-places, associations that accompany self-build, others that repair bicycles, social innovation, human, economic. They are not necessarily on the high-tech field and are less media, but they are working on the necessary questions.

MB: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How do you think will be the world in which you will evolve? Do you project yourself into the "global arena" and if yes / no, why and how?

J & F: The observation is that today in January, we do not know too much where we will be at the end of December. This has been true since the beginning of the adventure. We are in exploration, and it is very difficult to know where we will be in 3 years. After 5 years we have already exceeded our dreams of 3 or 4 years ago ...! Our collective dynamics explode, economically we will have to find more ways because humanly we will not be able to go much further We refuse work every day! One of the interesting tracks on the scale of 3 or 4 years is to set up an own training center on a farm with a workshop training center according to our needs, a logistics platform, a classroom, offices, garages, And accommodation. Why a farm? To have feet in the ground, a true support of experimentation and a tool of work to the height of our needs. Today we operate with the frugality of our means, but we have ways to improve our work. In the years to come, beyond the rock concerts at the grinder we have organized during our Rencontres in June 2016 , we have plans to explore an illustration of our work through contemporary art. Among the perspectives, we imagine a European network around technological sovereignty.

In the world of associations for development and international cooperation, this idea has already existed since the 1970s around the appropriate technologies: reappropriating oneself, going towards conviviality, connecting and building bonds throughout Europe so that there is more Exchanges between our different countries. Our adventure is not without effort. Part of what makes us hold is that we do not refuse poetry, pleasure, being as we are. We thoroughly and thoroughly explore the tracks and horizons that are available to us. One of the objectives for which we believe we are on the right track is the following: while in France local development has always been specialized, things are actually decompartmentalized today. If we think more comprehensively, we will participate in developing something richer, more powerful and sustainable. What makes us strong is that we control the whole chain: DIY at the political and collective level. We are full of energy: our will is to testify that the fields we are exploring with the methodologies we use can be applied to a whole bunch of other things.