Sunday, 4 October 2009

Farmer Foch gives up on us

It has been an ongoing saga about Farmer Foch and our fields, so let me fill you in with a bit of info first: Farmer Foch has been farming the fields here on behalf of the previous owners for several years. It is of mutual benefit that he did so, because the owners get to have the fields used and Farmer Foch gets to reap harvests for minimal rent.

And then things changed. We arrived. Farmer Foch had emailed us in the UK during the sale of our house there, to ask if he could use the fields for one year. We thought that a good idea at the time because we didn't know when we would be able to leave the UK, and having him farm the land meant that the property didn't look so neglected.

A problem: if the farmer farms a land which he doesn't own, and does this for a number of years, then he has automatic rights over that land. Which means that he can keep on farming it until he decides not to, no matter what the owner wishes. The way round it, I thought, was not to receive any money for rent. In other words Farmer Foch got use of the land for free.

He put corn on the fields. We arrived in June 2008 to find the house surrounded by corn fields, apart from the entrance field. The farmers here use every inch of space, and the corn was so tightly packed onto the land, that we couldn't even get round to the back of the house or down to the river. No problem. We were still busy trying to clear the courtyard of vegetation which occupied us at that time.

Late July. Farmer Foch arrived with the combine harvester. And showed great amusement at the fact that we were living in a caravan and tent, that the house of our roof was all of a tumble, and that our French was almost zilch. We were newbies. Still plump from our UK lifestyle, still nervous of the adventure which we had given ourselves by coming here to Labartere, and showing uncertainty and unsureness which must have given him the impression that we didn't have the foggiest idea of what we were supposed to be doing here.

Hubs wanted him off the land and didn't want him to put another crop on. But I felt that since we had given him our word that he could have the land for one year, then we should honour that commitment.

He planted oil seed rape, which is probably the worst crop he could have planted. It took ages to grow, from September through until July and snarled the fields up so much that we couldn't walk round them and worst of all, that beneath the rape grew a multitude of vigorous weeds. We were left with fields full of such plants which we knew would produce difficulties when the fields were seeded with grass.

Meanwhile: the roof of the house was removed (September 2008), the tempest of January 2009 came and went leaving us with ripped tarpaulins everywhere but a second caravan to live in, and we managed to get the Hutto (once upon a time pig and chicken place by the gateway) up and running.

So when Farmer Foch paid a visit in June 2009, we had an 'office' to talk to him in, but still he seemed amused at our efforts to live here which made us feel belittled. But somehow he had a hold over us. We began to be worried in case he refused to budge from our land. He offered us rent again but we refused. This was just before he harvested the oil seed rape. Hubs also discussed his requirement of the fields: that they be laid down to grass so that animals could graze, such as sheep and cows. Farmer Foch thought this hilarious, said that we didn't have enough land for cows, and obviously had not changed his opinion of us: that we were newbies and didn't have a clue.

But Farmer Foch did say he would plant the fields to grass for us. He didn't seem very keen though. I guess he was losing income by not being able to put corn, oil seed rape or maize here.

The summer made its progression: long and hot. The house began to be ressurected. The half barn became almost done, and it was obvious that we were making headway with the house. Having lived here for just over a year, and been stretched mentally and emotionally a million different ways during that time, we have changed. We are not newbies any longer.

Farmer Foch paid us a visit again three weeks ago, still with his original attitude towards us in place. Here is what I wrote in the blog at that time: Farmer Foch has been asked to plough the two fields and then sow them with grass.

Since we don't really do French, and Farmer Foch doesn't really do English, well let's just say that wires can get crossed! Hence HG Hubs fetching up red faced with frustration, and Farmer Foch kind of cross eyed with trying to make himself understood.

And, yet again, God bless the Internet. Onto Babel Translation HG and Farmer Foch went. Ah. An even redder faced HG. For it transpired that Farmer Foch was saying that because we have had no rain since April, it is not advisable to put grass seed down because it won't have enough time to flourish before next summer arrives. Therefore, a 'meanwhile' idea from Farmer Foch: "Why don't I plant another winter cereal crop in December. Then we can have a go at getting the grass planted this time next year." He went on, "But if it rains in the next three weeks, then we might get the grass in this year". What he meant was: Can I use your fields for another nine months? Lets not do the grass because that won't make me any money. Or at least, that is what HG thought he meant.

So: a conundrum: pray for rain so we can get the grass growing which means we can get the animals who will eat the grass in two years time. Or pray for no rain so the roof can be put on.

Well, it did rain. Only for four days, but rain it did. Plus the roof kept on going up. But in the background of our minds was the niggling thought about whether Farmer Foch was going to plant the grass or not. Too mentally tired to phone him, and not wanting to deal with his attitude, which was still that we didn't have a clue about what we were doing, we left it as a bubbling irritation in the back of our minds. In truth, I think we would have probably let him bully us into planting another grain crop.

And then! A tractor arrived. On it, Farmer Michel. Come to discuss the ploughing of the fields, and the grassing of them. Worse to talk to than Farmer Foch because his French is laden heavily with local dialect, nevertheless he treated us more as equals, perhaps because he hadn't seen us when first we arrived so didn't have an entrenched view of us in his mind.

And he came, and he raked over the fields with one tractor, ploughed them with another tractor, smoothed it over with yet another one, went and purchased the grass seed on our behalf (one type for cows, one type for sheep), someone else came with another tractor specifically designed to sow seed, then Farmer Michel smoothed the land back over again. It took three days, and he charged us less than the grass seed cost.

And I think that Farmer Foch must have finally realised that we do know what we are doing, that we are here to stay, and that we won't be messed with. Somehow, during that last visit of his, he must have realised that we remain intent on our purpose and that we haven't wilted under the pressure of living here, which so many of the English do. And so, I think, he handed us over to Farmer Michel.

It is a big step forward for us. By his doing so we feel that we have proved ourselves. And it means that we have control of our land back, that once the fences are up we can start having livestock. But most of all, that we can walk all over our land without being worried about damaging a crop which isn't ours. It is a good feeling.

Front field:

Side field:

What will grow: the newly planted grass, or the newly turned over weed seeds? Probably both. So: how to get the grass to grow without being strangled by the weeds? Two ways: Inorganic which means spraying with a herbicide next spring. Or organic. Which means going out and weeding it by hand. Mmmmmm. A question, I think, I will leave for the moment! They are, after all, quite big fields!!!


DUTA said...

Hi Vera,

Very interesting post. Congratulations for having taught Mr. Foch a lesson! Now, you're really on the straight track. May God give you all the strength and energy you need to handle your house and your land!

Vera said...

Thanks Duta, for your kind thoughts. We are not working on the house and land for ourselves, but for others: it is our hope that it can become a Holistic Retreat in the future, so that people can come here for rest and recovery. That is why we are putting such a lot of effort into this project.

DUTA said...

Do tell us more about this holistic plan of yours. It sounds very interesting.

Vera said...

Duta, we hope to offer 'get off your life' courses here, whereby those who are life-tired can come and get themselves back on track again. If we are to do this, then the Universe is going to have to fund us because our cash flow is more than somewhat depleted at the moment. But I remain confident (most of the time!) that funds will come in from somewhere, and that we will be able to achieve this task that Life has given us.