In Marion’s garden, there are roma tomatoes, Spanish sweet peppers, Saint-Victor leeks, gourd squash, dyer’s woad, Luc’s carrot, cosmos and large-flowered zinnias which sway in the wind. In the first days of November, the young woman walks among the flowers and vegetables that she grows with Clélia, David and Nicolas, the other members of the Gaec (Common Agricultural Group) Canteranne.
Based in the heart of Lot-et-Garonne, in a hilly landscape, the four partners are part of Biau Germe, a group of seed farmers which, for forty years, has defended a certain idea of plant biodiversity. “The market gardener’s purpose is the fruit. Ours is to reap the seed. We follow the entire cycle of the plant, from germination to reproduction of the seed,” she says, moving from a row of Chinese spring onions to another of long purple eggplants.
Genetic diversity and flavor of natural seeds
Created in 1982 by Sylvia Schmid, a Swiss market gardener who arrived in Lot-et-Garonne in 1959, Le Biau Germe today brings together twenty-five farmers and thirteen farms located within a radius of twenty kilometers around Montpezat-d’Agenais. These farmers produce and market 500 varieties of vegetable, flower, cereal and aromatic seeds sold over the Internet, mainly to French and European gardeners and organic market gardeners.
They certainly do not carry much weight compared to multinationals like Monsanto, DuPont Dow or Syngenta which monopolize the global seed market. But at a time when more than 80% of the seeds listed in the Semae catalog (inter-professional association bringing together players in the seed sector) are hybrids, they have set themselves the mission of preserving cultivated biodiversity, and safeguarding old and hardy plants. . In the Biau Germe catalog, we do not find F1, these seeds crossed and selected to obtain calibrated vegetables which keep longer but lose their flavor.
On their farms, Lot-et-Garonnais farmers select and reproduce seeds naturally, respecting the specifications of organic farming. More rustic, they adapt better to different terroirs, without requiring incessant chemical infusions. “In our gardens, we like to have diversity. We grow, for example, around thirty varieties of tomatoes and around ten carrots. But also foreign varieties like the Palestinian cucumber or the Santo Domingo pepper. Customers and gardeners give us seeds which we then reproduce,” explains Claire, a member of Biau Germe for around ten years.
In Biau Germe, versatile farmers
In addition to working the land, the success of Biau Germe is based on the versatility of its members. From the multiplication of the seed to its shipment throughout France, the members of the group do everything from A to Z. They are farmers but also sorters, baggers, testers, shippers, accountants… Gardeners in the summer, all join the common building , the result of a participatory project, when the first cold weather is expected.
At the beginning of autumn, Claire left her farm located in the Garonne valley to work at the headquarters. His mission for the day: bagging, alongside Adèle and Sandie, while Guillaume gets down to the strategic stage of sorting. In an air column, the market gardener pours a batch of dill seeds to “eliminate dust and separate the heaviest seeds from the lightest”. Before passing them through the optical sorter which identifies spotted seeds. Once sorted, the seeds will go to the germination room where Fabrizio and Clélia will test their germinative quality. Finally, they will be bagged before entering a room closed by a thick door.
In the stock room, the temperature is 18°C, the humidity is 60% and the aromas are intoxicating. On wooden shelves rest the treasures of Biau Germe: onion seeds from Mazères, monstrous leeks from Carentan, spinach from New Zealand, big lazy blonde lettuce. And a multitude of other seeds that will delight gardeners who love biodiversity.
Recipes for success at Biau Germe
- Fair management. Biau Germe is organized into an EIG (Economic Interest Group). Decisions are made jointly, work and remuneration distributed equitably thanks to a points system taking into account the complexity of different cultures.
- High fertility. Thanks to scrupulous sorting and germination tests repeated each year, the seeds achieve an average germination rate of 85%, well above the official standard.
- The sharing. Located within a 20 kilometer radius, the farmers of Biau Germe share tools, tractors and harvesters in particular.