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The Association Terre de Liens: An example in Echausses, France of multi-purpose property

Martine Theveniaut, mayo 2010

Terre de Liens (Land of connections) is an NGO (association) that was created in France in 2003.

Its mission is to « contribute to the creation of environmentally responsible and socially interdependent rural activities, by supporting people with projects and the collective acquisition of agricultural land and buildings. It is also to raise the awareness of civil society, and challenge politicians, unions and associations in order to reinclude land management at the heart of their concerns. » It is inspired by the Triodos Bank, a Dutch green bank that started a green fund to invest in and buy land for organic farming in the 1980s. This thinking became more widespread in the ‘90s in popular education, ethical finance, organic, biodynamic farming and environmental protection movements.

One objective was to devise a tool that would allow people to go beyond the solution of the GFA (agricultural land acquisition groups) or the SCI that can prove to be fragile structures in the long run, because if any one partner decides to withdraw, the whole operation is jeopardised.

To implement its action plan, the association of Terre de liens created two tools: one for solidarity investment, the Terre de liens Landholding Trust, which has a savings’ fund that is used to acquire agricultural land that is then rented out to farmers, and the Terre de liens Foundation. Recognised as being of public interest, the latter may accept donations of money and farms. Terre de liens is now present in 15 regions of France.

The example of « Echausses » in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Eight adults between 28 and 40, with five children shared a collaborative project and were looking for a multi-purpose property. « Echausses » in Limoux seemed an ideal place. The real estate is composed of 7 ha of alluvial deposit land, 2 barns, a hayloft, a wood-fired old-fashioned bread-baking oven, 580 m2 of habitable space and 120 m2 that could be converted. It is situated in Limoux, in the south of the Aude department (county) very close to the Pyrenees. The financial weight of the project and their determination to ensure the land would continue to be put to use to grow food, inclined the group to favour a collaboration with the Terre de liens Landholding Trust.

The total cost of the transaction was € 520,000. The price of the residential buildings and the mixed nature of the project helped the group to determine the value by separating the assets as follows:

• The living quarters: € 310,000 of residential buildings acquired by the SCI “Fermacultures” created by the collective.

• The agricultural land and buildings acquired by the Landholding Trust (150,000€ for agricultural land and buildings, 60,000 € for roofing, masonry, restoration of wasteland, etc, spread so that 16% was put up by members of the collective project and 84% borrowed from local savings banks and non dedicated funds). This guarantees the possibility for those involved to continue to live on site if their farmland were sold on at a later stage (upon retirement or departure of members involved in the collective).

What was their project? « The diversity of our professions, our paths and our daily lives create both the richness and challenges of the project » they wrote in the description of their project.

« One of the challenges was to find a legal arrangement that reflected the true state of our money matters, solidarity and the division of power: Working together one day a week and one weekend per month to strengthen our ties and jointly build a certain independence (a shared vegetable garden, renewable energies) and to develop some cultural life on the farm (film evenings, games, discussions, concerts …). All this involved many different things: Develop and manage all shared areas by consensus; develop our “committed” professional activities on site, all that involves a lot of dedication. We also had to find means of sharing materials (agricultural, household, workshop and cultural property) and shared income; cultivating open and non-violent communication; having fewer material goods but growing more as human beings…. We had to jointly buy organic and local the food we did not produce."… Moving step by step towards an ideal situation is no easy thing: for example for the SCI, separating the capital from the personal cash deposits has helped even out the difference in capital and achieve a fairer, more horizontal way of sharing. The development of a legal plan has been sometimes challenging, at times a frustrating and confusing state of affairs, especially where there were no definitive, reliable legal answers, even though we consulted professionals.

Even if the shared time fosters bonding among the residents, the professional economic activities and dwellings remain individual. Each person is responsible for developing his or her own professional and personal project: Vincent is setting up an organic market garden for vegetables while Gaëtan is growing organic fruit; both fruit and vegetables will create added value through direct sales (markets and box schemes). The land will be worked whenever possible using mules rather than tractors. Gaëtan will also keep up his consulting business in forestry management alternatives. Lisbeth, a midwife, moved her holistic support birthing offices to the site (she specialises is home births). Cécile is planning to accommodate senior citizens. Michaël, a special needs teacher, is planning to occasionally host disabled individuals or troubled youths. Jocelyn, who makes string-instruments and is a musician, wants to move his workshop to Echausses. Nina, a teacher, is planning to create educational activities for young children.

The collective agricultural and cultural project is centred on the choice of working together one day a week and one weekend a month. They hold regular meetings the funding and organization of the project. The resources are shared, and there is almost daily exchange. Household running costs (water, electricity, gas …) are divided according to a variable schedule that is jointly defined on the basis of the estimated individual consumption.

The project milestones.

The SCI was created in April 2009. The property was purchased and in May, the pioneers moved in (3 adults)! By the beginning of July, 5 adults and 1 child were living in Echausses and the interior renovation of the SCI began. In the summer they sorted out the fences on the land. With the help of Moutsie from Nature & Progrès, they carried out a complete botanical inventory using bio-indicators. A nice welcome party on August 15 was followed by a lively collective effort to begin the renovation of roofs of the property (400 m2) and to stabilise the retaining wall of the bakery.

By late August, 7 adults and 3 children were living in Echausses and the roofing work continued. Vincent bought two beautiful cross Pyrenean-Portuguese donkeys (Ulis and Quetzal) and he began to train them. At the start of September, 4 ha of the land authorised for agricultural purposes that had been lying fallow was restored (by heavy grinding, ripping, chiseling, plowing, and harrowing). A pedologist (soil specialist) using the Hérody-biodynamics approach considered that the work had been well done, the quality of the soil was improved: bushes had not started to grow again, the earth was coming to life (aeration) and the vegetation had significantly changed.

In autumn, the group completed the renovation of most of the roof. Lisbeth began her work as a midwife in Echausses, Gaëtan continued with his forestry activities and prepared to plant his orchard, Josselin continued to prepare his workshop for making string-instruments and to organize Occitan concerts, Nina was preparing for an educational entrance exam, Cécile was working as a trainer in the region, Michaël as a special needs teacher in Limoux, and Vincent was preparing to farm the land. Work on the interior of the buildings (walls, floors, electricity) will continue through the winter, as well as the organization of the workshop in one of the Terre de Liens barns. Vincent and Gaëtan continue to develop their plan for the market garden and organic fruit trees with ADEAR 11 . Vincent is pursuing the training of his donkeys for tillage (they’re starting to get the hang of it!) as he prepares for his first season.

In March 2010, eight adults between 28 and 40 and five children from 1 to 11 are now living in Echausses. Béatrice, Michaël’s wife, has moved in with her two daughters.

And what now ?

« We are planting hedges just about everywhere! Firewood, many small daily tasks and meetings for the management of the SCI … We are testing the well (it flows well!) and beginning to install irrigation and buy farm equipment. Vincent sowed his first plant bed after tillage and installed his first greenhouse (after some administrative problems). Gaëtan ordered his fruit trees and got his stakes (from a forest that he manages!), the collective vegetable garden has been started … Long live the sun!

In one month … the project will already be one year old! We had to accept that … the world was not created in one day, and Echausses will not be completed in a year! Life at a place helped by « Terre de Liens » … the happiness of a great adventure! Thank you to everyone who has supported us from near and afar.  »

For further information:

Terre de Liens, « Une richesse à cultiver » : www.terredeliens.org

mouvement@terredeliens.org

Terre de Liens in Languedoc-Roussillon : lr@terredeliens.org

Fuentes :

Bulletin international du développement local durable n°68