Léa picks her strawberries
By Emilie Dubrul
Alone among the flat rows strewn with straw and grassy strips, Léa carefully picks the first orders of the day which will be dispatched to the small village supermarket or to the rather trendy Bordeaux Magasin Général de chez Darwin. In the shade of wide dark green leaves, despite the dry August weather, the multicropping Cijosée strawberries reveal their beautiful vermilion red. Here the strawberries are picked when they are just ripe ‘really ripe, the day before or the same day of sale, for maximum flavour’ explains the young market gardener shyly. The taste, the flavour: rigorous standards that her mother proudly explains: ‘Lea and her brother spent their childhood in the garden. When they were small, they used to amuse themselves by tasting all the fruit and vegetables or blind tasting the aromatic herbs, sometimes the wild ones. This was their initiation, a game which has taught them the taste of good things. ’
Encouraged by this family culture, Léa became an agricultural engineer. ‘I have always known that I wanted to work with living things. I love the diversity of this job, the discipline that it imposes and the fact that you constantly have to test yourself because it is always nature that has the last word. I chose to study agronomy so that I could have a choice. It’s a very comprehensive training, cutting across sectors.’ After several work placements, in particular abroad (in the USA and Argentina in small wine producing enterprises) in order to discover other means of production, Léa returned to the family farm which was undergoing big changes. ‘I needed to develop a new activity. My parents never grew strawberries, but it is a product that suits me quite well. It is a fragile little fruit, healthy, utterly delicious’ she says with some amusement. Each Wednesday and Thursday in the summer the Bireaud farm holds tasting workshops. ‘With so many varieties, the strawberry is ideal for this kind of sharing experience. We provide tastings along with edible wild plants. It is gastronomy at its finest’ adds Léa.
Bio and dynamic at the same time.
On the family farm that her elder brother Ivan turned over to biodynamic farming some years ago, Léa’s strawberries are grown without pesticides or any other chemical products. ‘Biodynamic farming, involves working the land in accordance with a global system, in which the land is treated as a living entity. I respect the soil and nourish it, and in return it nourishes us in the long term I see biodynamics as a tool that enables us to achieve our goal of self-sufficiency’ explains the young agronomist. Making use of the existing biodiversity, just like her father and her grandfather before him, nettles, horsetail and comfrey (perennial herbaceous plants) are planted and harvested in the garden to be used for making decoctions.
‘To guard against illness, we grind the powdered horsetail, which is extremely rich in silica and which gives the plant thicker tissue and makes it harder for parasites to invade it.’ To nourish the land that will in turn nourish their fruit, Léa and Ivan make a slurry or green manure known as ‘cow horn manure 500.’ This preparation encourages microbial development and formation of humus. With this natural soil fertilisation, Léa’s strawberries grow in a healthy well-nourished soil which gives the produce the unique taste of the land where they are grown. ‘For us, biodynamic farming is not a market strategy to go greener, it is a way of life. A philosophy. We’re firmly convinced that we are on the right track’ says the young farmer, with conviction.
Today, in an agricultural landscape where the vines grow juxtaposed with meadows and fields of cereal, where the first sheep seek out the shady spots, the ponds are once more busy with life. Natural water sources that water the garden planted with bee-loving plants, the vegetable patch and the flat rows of strawberries. ‘We have worked on the idea of self-sufficiency by using what we have at hand. We have recreated a natural cycle which is a closed circuit explains Léa. The water is pumped from below, from a natural pool where the cows used to drink, then it is filtered through the reeds as it rises.’ Here the strawberries are only watered once a week or every 10 days, and not daily as in normal practice with a drip system. ‘Just because we have water it doesn’t mean we have to go mad with it. We only use what is strictly necessary, just the amount the plant needs even if it means having smaller fruits. Resources are not infinitely renewable, and so it is important to preserve them. And anyway strawberries bloated with water have no taste!’
The Bireaud farm is an exemplary agricultural ecosystem which can be enjoyed by the numerous visitors who come to stay at the gîte and follow the botanical trails. ‘We have chosen to open our farm and our home to share some of the good times, the work of a peasant farmer was at times very solitary and individualistic occupation. Opening up to people from elsewhere, to other professions is so valuable to us ’ concludes Léa before returning to her magnificent strawberry plants.
La ferme des Bireaud
Les Hauts de Riquets
Tel: +33(0) 553 838 360