Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guest blog from volunteers Anne and Fiaz

Anne sows seeds
Stuart and Gabrielle’s smallholding was the first stop on our three-month journey through France, Spain and Portugal in search of ‘the good life’. A few months ago, we quit our office jobs in pursuit of a more fulfilling and sustainable way of life. We agreed that the best way to find out what this might look like would be to visit and learn from like-minded people, who have already set up a similar lifestyle to what we are interested in.

Fiaz building a nestbox
When we arrived in Brittany, we already had a vague idea of what our ‘ideal smallholding’ might look like: it should be in a remote location with no neighbours too close and we wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible.

After a week with Stuart and Gabrielle, who were very generous with their time, thoughts and information, we realised that being isolated from other people possibly isn’t that desirable after all, in fact it is very important to be part of the local community. We really liked their approach of creating mutually beneficial relationships with the people around them for trading skills, swapping products and sharing information and tools, without involving money.

They have also influenced our thinking about self-sufficiency, pointing out that if you produce everything yourself you may put other local people out of business, for example, they make a point of buying their bread at the village baker. Also some things just aren’t feasible on a small scale and it’s therefore better to focus on the things you like doing and can do well instead of trying to do everything yourself.
working as a team in their woods
Working with Stuart and Gabrielle in their woodland and on the smallholding, seeing how they do and approach things has helped us to progress in our thinking and see some things differently. Besides lots of food for thought, we were also fed incredibly well, we certainly didn’t expect to get 3-course meals and home-made cheesecake on our volunteering adventure, the bar for the next stop is set high!

Just a week into the journey, it’s already proved to be a worthwhile undertaking – many thanks to both of you.

Anne and Fiaz’ next stop will be a forest garden in the Limousin area and a certified organic pig farm in the South West of France. You can follow their travels at