It is quite difficult to briefly sum up the essence of this very particular place which is constantly evolving. It is a pedagogical farm which, when we came by, was cultivating about 4500-5000 young plants over a little more than half an hectare (about 1 ac). This eco-center offers an amazing vegetable garden in mandala shape in which grows in a beautiful mess vegetables, fruits, edible flowers and medicinal plants, it is completed by more cultivated mounds and green houses as well as an orchard. Several animals are there to help with the garden and the pedagogical activities. The garden is opened to all its members for picking which is then offered at a discounted price. It is also possible to purchase products transformed onsite, participate to a training session. There are numerous projects ongoing to develop new activities around autonomy and healthy food.
Aurore and Bruno are the founders and first inhabitants of the location. Bruno is a farmer and Aurore has had various professional activities around gardens, permaculture and pedagogical animation before dedicating herself to the creation of Alosnys. It is mainly with Aurore and also with Bruno that we did our one-week training session to discover the fundamentals of permaculture.
“What is nice with permaculture is that with one stone, you can kill three birds at a time.” (Figuratively speaking!)
The aim of the place is both productive and aesthetic, says Aurore. At the garden entrance, we happen on a shed, called the “flavor parlour”, with a green roof (planted with many plants) and equipped with a little refreshment stall and a huge wooden table. This is the area for the theoretical courses as well as to enjoy some garden syrups tasting.
In front of this shed, there is a small flowery lawn which leads to an open selling area. It has a cash register to make the accounting and also under its undulated metallic roof, heated by the sun, crates in which various plants are being dried up. The well-ventilated area is ideal for this preservation activity. Adjacent to it, there is a cellar, closed up with a wooden door, dug in the earth and with a thick layer of plants on its outside walls, flowers and kiwi on the sunny side and bamboos on the other. This cellar is much colder than the summer temperatures and allows cold preservation, in sand or not, for vegetables that are suited to this type of preservation (pumpkin, potatoes, apples,…etc.)
Behind the cellar, we find several green houses and in front of it, the mandala vegetable garden opens up. Behind the shed, there is a little grazing area for the chickens and gooses. Beyond there is the farm building itself. Starting with the green houses located at the top of the field which has a gentle slope. There is a sheltered shed in which workbenches, high enough to work standing, are used to make the seeding plates. Nearby, there is the seedlings green house in which the plates are organized on similar workbenches all along its walls and in the middle in order to enable regular monitoring and watering on the way to the actual vegetable garden. Next are on or two green houses dedicated to a mix of tomatoes, peppers, chili, basil and further companion plants in elevated beds which are circled by wooden planks to facilitated movement around them in the green houses and their care without having to bend too low as it is possible to sit on their edges.
Going down towards the vegetable garden in mandala shape, we find on the way a big pile of compost ready to be used and on which some zucchini plants are running, enjoying the rich soil.
The mandala is both a philosophical concept and energy vibrating shape. Concretely, it is a kind of labyrinth in concentric circles which center is here occupied by a pond. It is impressive to notice the well-being that overtakes us when we walk around the little alleys dug along the round elevated beds, high of about 60cm at their top. This mounds offer various expositions to the sun and the whole produces quite a breathtaking effect when seen from the sky (you can see some pictures on their website here). Moreover, it offers a great playing field for the children who love getting lost in this fertile maze. A lot of medicinal plants, aromatic plants and edible flowers can be found there as well as all kinds of vegetables of various heights. Those are arranged together is their most favorable companioning possible. The beds are regularly amended with compost and mulched with hay in order to preserve the quality and quantity of fertile soil. The alleys soil is also regularly brought up back on the mounds each year in order to limit the erosion. If the plants are trimmed or if branches and leaves have fallen naturally, those are left onsite in order to bring back to the soil the nutritive elements. The mulch layer is quite thick.
After the mandala, we find other small cultivated areas with mounds of various kinds. Right before though, there is another pond, for the ducks. They are 16 when we visit it and they are kept inside their own space because the vegetable garden is fruiting but sometimes they are left to run around freely in it in order to devour the slugs.
A green band of grass between the mandala and the other mounds and green houses at the lower part of the domain is kept by two Ouessant sheeps who are busy cutting the grass and limiting other grasses growth. Around the mandala, there are green alleys which are also under the responsibility of the two little sheeps.
The other mounds are either elevated and circled by wooden planks to facilitate the access to children for example, or closer to the earth like regular beds. Green houses in this area are mainly dedicated to the tomatoes when we are there with their companion plants.
Behind this space, there is a huge meadow of wild flowers and grass with beehives at the back. Going up on one side, we follow an alley, separated from the road by a thick edge of edible fruit bushes hosting numerous birds. The entire domain is dotted with insect shelters, as simple as an upturned flower pot filled with hay or as complex and huge as a huge insect hotel in order to favour biodiversity and the presence of pollinizing species. Along the other side, when going up, we walk along a meadow protected by bushes and trees from the other fields. A walkway in the middle, between the vegetable garden and the green field facilitates passage and in the future will go right up the property to the new areas recently purchased.
Going up, we finally reach the main farm building which is constituted on the right side by a barn where the woofers are hosted in tents or caravans and a workshop. In this workshop, everything required to tinker about can be found as well as another cold space for storage and huge cans for lacto fermentation.
Behind the main house, there is a conservatory orchard in which are sometimes freed the gooses hosted on this side in order to amend and clean the earth. On the left side, well-closed in, a little field with two little playful goats which are making both adults and children smile.
There are further projects in the buildings acquired recently which are located on the other side of the road in order to develop a pedagogical kitchen and some hosting space. There is also a development project for a green house in aquapony with an adjoining sheepfold and chicken coop. In general, the place is designed with a lot of thoughts into it to favour water, energy and food autonomy while taking into account the existing constraints and limit to the extent possible useless efforts.
WATER AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT
Regarding water, there is a source at the top of the field which enables a relative autonomy. There is also a project to collect rain water from the roofs and as well a project to set up a phyto-purification system.
Regarding energy, it comes from the network. However, Alosnys does aim at becoming autonomous eventually. There is a wind turbine on the roof but the roof is actually disturbing the airflow and its orientation isn’t properly set, there is therefore a project to improve its location and/or its orientation.
There are dry toilets behind the sale point for the visitors as well as in the barn for the woofers. These are sawdust based.
There is a lot of reusing and recycling on the farm itself and being autonomous in vegetables and partially in fruits, there are no waste linked to this.
Other waste is triaged and given over to the regular waste processing network.
THE WAY IT WORKS
Aurore and Bernard are the owners and founders of the farm and Adrien had joined as a permanent resident to work on the farm as well when we passed through. Their objective is to develop a community with various competences in order to make of Alsonys a dynamic eco-center, filled with know-hows linked to the fundamental principles of permaculture: take care of the earth, take care of the humans and share fairly the resources.
When we were there, there were two permanent people in winter completed by 5 to 6 vonlunteers in summertime.
The daily meals are vegetarian to favor food autonomy, especially since the animals on the farm are there for pedagogical purposes with the children and not for providing food. However, the residents are not strictly vegetarians. The vegetables are collected in the half hour preceeding the meals in order to preserve all their vital energy.
The garden is opened daily from 10 am till 6pm for collects and visits, either freely or guided. The visits are payable for those who are not members of the association. Plants are also sold during the season.
Alosnys organizes regularly trainings, workshops and festivities, offers extra-curricular activities for children in the garden and also participates to conferences and various festivals outside within the region.
The renovation of the buildings that will be used for the pedagogical kitchen and the hosting is done thanks to a partnership with a building school. Aurore explains the importance of networking with the locals and within various networks to survive and thrive and create solidarity and mutual aid relationships. She warns us not to mistake autonomy with autarcy.
The vegetable garden is very productive, numerous varieties are ancient or original. A non-exhaustive list could be: Strawberries, blackcurrant, apples, potatoes, chrysanthemum, orach, lettuce, rocambole onion (grows on top of the leaf), hyssop (honey and medicinal plant), epazote (good against gases), cabbage, lamb’s lettuce, carrots, various varieties of tomatoes, basil, pumpkin, helichrisum (curry herb, good to treat bruises), lavender, red chards, gooseberry, little peas with purple pods, several varieties of mint, several species and varieties of squash, beans, jam watermelon, radish, raspberries, borage, fruits and edible flowers,… The list is far from being exhaustive and does not give a truthful account of the generosity of the garden neither in quantity nor in quality since we can find there more than 4500 to 5000 plants without counting the numerous perennials and direct sowing and the productivity of each of the plants. The tomato is the all-time favorite. The ancient varieties are very appreciated. However, its very constraining and demanding culture could nearly be excluded of a permaculture place which looks to reduce the required efforts. The beehives produce about 120 kg of honey. There is also a project to add about 6 goats in order to produce milk and cheese.
Contact: https://www.alosnys.com/ Videos made on-site: