Valderoure farm is a small livestock farm on the French Riviera, selling its produce to several CSA groups (called AMAPs ). Although the farm was twice faced with strong land pressures and land speculation, it managed to survive and expand thanks to the solidarity of AMAP members and citizen networks.
In 2000, Stéphane Maillard started as a young farmer breeding organic cows and poultry on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur). Despite the rough competition for land, he managed to buy a farm and meadows and to rent additional land from local landowners. He could thus connect the various meadows to create a managed grazing system for his cows, the basis of his extensive farming approach.
His farm was developing well until one morning in 2005, Stéphane discovered “for sale” signs in some of the meadows he was renting. He then realised that he was victim of a common practice of rural landowners: selling land to horse breeders who create horse-riding trails and build stables that will later be sold as secondary residences, at inflated prices. It was an immense shock for Stéphane, as the loss of those seven hectares of grazing would mean the end of his farm business. Indeed, he would no longer have the necessary pastures for his herd. He would also be forced to pay back subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy (both direct aids and agri-environment measures).
Stéphane sought ways to fight back. He did not receive any support from the local farmers’ unions, as this “horse-breeding trick” was very common amongst farmers. Besides, Stéphane was new to the area. Stéphane and his wife, with the help of a lawyer, fought alone for one year to maintain their farm. Meanwhile, Stéphane had to reduce the size of his herd from 30 to only 12 cows. He was refusing consumers every week, and was actually facing economic problems and preparing for the possibility of having less pasture.
During that period, Stéphane attended the annual general assembly of the local AMAP network. From the start, Stéphane had sold his eggs and meat to 5 different AMAPs in the region (Grasse, Valbonne, Fayence...). The general assembly of local AMAPs provides an opportunity to discuss many issues through conferences, meetings and round tables. During a debate on food sovereignty, Stéphane presented his problems for the first time to AMAP members. Immediately, a group of people organised an ad hoc round table on the situation. One participant mentioned that Terre de Liens was about to establish a solidarity-based investment fund in order to secure agricultural land: the Terre de Liens Foncière. Participants of the round table decided to ask Terre de Liens to acquire the land, so as to maintain Stéphane’s farm.
AMAP members then contacted Terre de Liens to explain the situation. Interested to act in this area of high land pressure, Terre de Liens in turn contacted the local SAFER , asking it to intervene with the landowners selling the land and requesting that they set a moderate price and agree to sell to Terre de Liens for Stéphane’s use.
It was one of Terre de Liens’ first land purchases. Local AMAPs did an immense amount of work and raised the money from their members and other concerned citizens. The total price was about €90,000 for 7.4 hectares – a price twice the French average, given the high land prices on the Riviera. In less than 6 months, local AMAPs and Terre de Liens raised over €70,000 from AMAP members, one of the AMAP, a local organic supermarket (Biocoop) and other citizens. Local AMAPs also mobilised and collaborated with Terre de Liens to prepare for the land acquisition. “Given the role played by the AMAPs, we just had to do the paperwork. It has been really easy”, said the President of the local Terre de Liens.
In 2009, another landowner wanted to repeat the “horse breeding trick” with four hectares of land. Stéphane hesitated for few months before calling Terre de Liens: “I was ashamed to ask for help again”. When he finally called them, the Foncière told him that the previous fundraising had been so successful that there were enough funds left for this second operation!
Stéphane’s farm is now secure. He has increased his herd and started a new enterprise, a microbrewery growing his own barley. He now sells to 10 different AMAPs. After these rough times, Stéphane got involved in local democracy and local life. He is now a municipal councillor in his village, a board member of the Natural Park of the Préalpes d’Azur and chairman of the Park’s farmers association. In a way, this tough experience helped him to realise how important citizen participation and trust is. Agroecological farmers often face land pressures and isolation within the farming sector: citizen networks and democratic instances can truly help empower them.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017
Stéphane Maillard, organic cow and poultry breeder.