by Perrine & Charles Hervé-Gruyer, book review by Chris Walters
Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful attempt to cut off Germany with an airborne invasion of the Netherlands in late September of 1944, might have shortened World War II by six months. The market garden operation currently underway in the tiny French village of Le Bec-Hellouin, by contrast, is rated as brilliant by outside observers, stunning even those who were optimistic in the first place. If adapted to local conditions and replicated on a massive scale in various parts of the world, it could do much to shorten the terminal crisis of humanity by several decades or more. Charles Hervé-Gruyer, co-founder of the tiny farm with his wife Perrine, can prove it — he has the numbers. Microfarming the way this family does it in a remote corner of Normandy cuts undesirable inputs and raises desirable output significantly. This book tells how they created La Ferme du Bec Hellouin over the past decade.
Perrine and Charles both brought a vast, diverse experience of the world to the project. Though neither had ever set foot on an organic farm before 2004, she had worked in international law and business in Asia, and he had spent 30 years on scientific research expeditions around the world, including considerable time spent with indigenous peoples who secured their own food supply every day. Somewhat isolated in their corner of Normandy, which is still dominated by industrial agriculture, they took their cues from California and Maine, specifically John Jeavons and Eliot Coleman. The resulting acre-and-a-half looks like a beauty as seen in the aerial photo that graces the book’s cover — trapezoidal and paramecium-shaped plots, forest gardens, substantial greenhouses, and an especially lovely garden on the end, a mandala within a rectangle.
It’s fascinating to read about a microfarm being created by such worldly and enterprising people. Perrine’s knowledge of Japan brings the work of Masanobu Fukuoka into the mix, as well as a potent form of composting called Bokashi that she discovers on a brief return trip. Charles consults the latest work in agroforestry and permaculture design. The book takes a refreshingly French approach to telling how they created their ferme, threading plenty of theory and philosophy of permaculture and microfarming into the granular details of how problems were solved and challenges faced.
At this historical moment, the idea of a landscape in any country covered by small, gorgeous farms such as La Ferme du Bec Hellouin still seems like a faraway goal. But not utopian, because the growing literature of permaculture in general, and books like this one in particular, prove it can be done.
Miraculous Abundance: One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World by Perrine & Charles Hervé-Gruyer, 2016. Chelsea Green. ISBN: 978-1-60358-642-9.
This review appears in the May 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.