Beyond a holistic approach to gardening, permaculture is a way of life. Combining design with a commitment to sustainable farming, permaculture (a catchy contraction of permanent agriculture) seeks to work with nature instead of against it.
More than half of France is made up of cultivated farmland, and agricultural traditions in the country are not only an important part of its history, but also an evolving movement in the present. France has a particularly celebratory and sentimental relationship with its terroir, one that serves as an international example. Today, France offers many opportunities for those interested in sustainable farming methods to get their hands dirty and dive into permaculture concepts at working farms and education centers.
What is Permaculture?
Disciples of permaculture respect the cycles of nature and the seasons and commit to being responsible stewards of the land by implementing farming methods that focus on regeneration, durability, energy conservation, and self-regulation.
The 12 guiding principles of permaculture—as well as its several branches including ecological engineering, regenerative design, and construction—are extensive and can leave the permaculture-curious with a hefty task ahead of them. Luckily, France has a wide selection of centers and schools that introduce and educate about permaculture to interested gardeners and farmers.
Digging Into Permaculture in France
A great point of entry into the world of permaculture is La Ferme biologique du Bec Hellouin. Founded in 2006, this organic farm in Normandy produces fruits, vegetables, apple juice, jams, and aromatic and medicinal plants, all organic and all for sale at the farm’s boutique.
La Ferme du Bec Hellouin is also the site of the Ecole de Permaculture, which offers trainings for professional farmers, those with plans to create their own farms, or people wishing to launch farming-related projects. Students study theory and practice during their time at the farm, internalizing the intellectual and pragmatic principles of permaculture. The farm’s excellent reputation and practices have been internationally acknowledged with famed American farmer and permaculture practitioner Eliot Coleman calling it “a kind of United Nations of all the best ideas of sustainable agriculture.”
L’Atelier de Permaculture, located in the Burgundy region of France, is geared towards non-professional garden farmers looking to be exposed to the tenants of permaculture. Founded by alums of La Ferme du Bec Hellouin, the farm hosts weekend trainings (220-250€) and week-long trainings (580€) for small groups of people who want to apply biodynamic and organic growing practices to their home (or even balcony!) garden. A variety of courses respond to all aspects of gardening, with this year’s agenda including workshops on pruning, creating a permaculture garden in one week, creating a mandala garden, making syrups and chutneys with fresh fruits and vegetables, and water management.
A mere two hours away from Paris you’ll find La Grande Raisandière, a farm that is in the process of transitioning to permaculture status. English-native Alexis Rowell (who is also a former student at La Ferme du Bec Hellouin) and his partner, Blanche Lepetit, offer weekend-long courses on permaculture, meditation, and vegan cookery. If the idea of getting your hands dirty, meditating, and eating well in a beautiful environment hasn’t gotten you excited enough, there’s more: All the weekend courses at La Grande Raisandière are free! Donations are accepted at the end of the course in a sort of pay-it-forward business model that ensures the space and program remain open for future students. Another added bonus: Non-Francophones can participate thanks to the presence of Englishman Alexis.
Horizon Permaculture offers 12-day permaculture certification courses as well as half-day courses that focus on different aspects of permaculture: design, soil cultures, urban farming, transition towns, and more. Located in the Loire Valley near the charming town of Amboise, it’s an easy day trip from Paris (a reduced rate is offered to those who come using ecologically minded forms of transportation such as bike, boat, or train). Along with the excellent pedagogical approach to permaculture, another thing that makes Horizon noteworthy is their Ma Fôret program, which focuses on the complexity of forests and their environmental importance. These full-sensory forest tours are awakening ballades during which you’ll find yourself at times blindfolded and at times looking at the world through a microscope.
Claire and Gildas Véret, the founders of Horizon Permaculture, are also the team behind the online permaculture courses at My Mooc, which are perfect for anyone wanting to study the subject à distance.
If you want to do some research on the world of French permaculture yourself, head to the French Permaculture Association Brin de Paille where you’ll find tons of resources in addition to lists of permaculture farms, teachers, and events. Similarly, the Réseau Français de Permaculture and Guide Natura Bio can point you in the right direction for more educational and community resources on permaculture in France.
- For information about permaculture in Paris, click here (website in French).
- For information about permaculture in Europe, click here.
- Want to get serious about permaculture? Take Geoff Lawton’s online masterclass.