It was tough leaving the Canal de Nantes à Brest. There’s something about that ride: long stretches of flat pathway, riparian scenery, forests and castles and cyclists. It was hard to make the decision to leave, but we knew that at some point we would have to upend the predictable traffic-free route and return to the slog of shared roads and variable inclines if we were going to find our first WWOOFing stop of the France leg of our trip: a week-long stay with Téo and Laure at L’Atelier des Bons Plants in the tiny French hamlet of Trévouillant.
We would go as far as Malestroit along the canal before heading south to Pleucadeuc and arriving for a bathroom break in the so-pretty-it’s-not-fair town of Rochefort-en-Terre, with its old shops and blooming-like-a-painting wisteria flowers.
While we were recalibrating our maps with the local tourism office’s wifi connection, we were treated to a public performance from a barefoot chanteuse and her accordion accompaniment. People were walking around eating crêpes and it was pretty much the Frenchiest French thing that had happened to us up until that point.
Though you need to leave the canal (and thus the wonderfully marked route of the Vélodyssey pathway) in order to arrive at Rochefort-en-Terre, getting that far was easy enough because of the tourist draw that brings people to the town. Leaving Rochefort-en-Terre to get to the charmingly backwater hamlet of Trévouillant is a different story entirely, mostly because the nearest town, Caden, lacks nearly all of the charm of Rochefort-en-Terre and it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of people would go out of their way to visit. That is, unless, you were in the market for some absolutely kick-ass heirloom tomato plants for your garden. If that’s the case, you need to make your way to L’Atelier des Bons Plants where Téo and Laure (along with Laure’s son Loan) have positioned themselves in the local farmer’s market scene to provide the heartiest and most diverse selection of different transplants for your garden that I’ve scene from an independent business. It would end up being our stop for the better part of nine days.
When we arrived, exhausted from being misled by a Google Maps route and then searching the hilly environs for their farm, Téo welcomed us and showed us quickly to what would be our awesome little home for the next week: a refurbished caravan that they had set up on the south corner of their property.
Our own little private home, replete with a bed and not much else: no wifi or heating, but an extremely comfortable bed and all the blankets we could ever need to stay warm. Somehow it was perfect and just what we needed.
We were invited to use the family computer to get in touch with future WWOOFing hosts or write home to our family, so the idea of not having a wifi connection simply meant that we were going to spend less time in front of a screen overall.
After a shower and unpacking our bikes, we threw in a load of laundry and sat down to dinner with everyone. Laure’s son Loan was home for a school holiday and we got to know each other over a delicious dinner (one of many delicious meals we would have during our visit) that was built heavily on greens that they picked out of their own garden along with pulses, rice and the quintessential French dinner piece: bread and cheese. Throw in Téo’s incredibly powerful and highly addictive habañero oil dressing with some tamari sauce, sunflower oil and nutritional brewer’s yeast and I was in salad heaven. It didn’t even matter what else we were having for dinner. Give me that arugula and mixed greens salad with those toppings and I’m set. The meals were legendary and I can already see myself showing up to dinner parties in Canada with Téo’s salad and passing it off as my own. I know. I’m shameless. It’s just that good.
When Téo and Laure moved to their farm to work and live, they spent a good four months living in the caravan that they were now hosting us in as they converted an abandoned farm building into a workshop and partitioned home to live in. It was incredibly cozy; Téo’s background in construction before his conversion to a plant sensei allowed him to build an incredibly well insulated home with passive heating in what was essentially an old animal barn.
The building now serves as a root cellar, cosmetics workshop (a side business that Laure runs using comfrey in all of her natural cosmetic products), partitioned home, eventual sauna and pantry. For good measure they even have spare bedrooms and a loft space in the otherwise open-concept space they call home. It’s hard to believe the amount of work that they put into it but incredible to see what their place looks like when they show you the photo slideshow of what it used to be.
Our week there was a crash course in running a plant business while we seeded, transplanted, organized, and stacked thousands of plants, both edible and ornamental. Like most vegetable plant businesses, the noble tomato plant is the big moneymaker and in our time at the farm and in the greenhouse I’m sure I handled no less than 2,500 tomato plants at some stage of their lifecycle. In one day, I counted no less than 5,600 tomato transplants that were replanted by the combined efforts of four or five people.
But they aren’t all beefsteak tomatoes, either. I’d have to check with Téo or Laure again, but my guess is that they are producing around 60 varieties of tomatoes in their two greenhouses without pesticides, herbicides, non-organic practices or robot machinery to help them out. Between April and July they sell their plants at farmer’s markets every day of the week save for Tuesday, where they open their greenhouse doors to the public who can come and pick their plants right off the greenhouse tables. It’s a really wild sight to behold and in the four years they’ve been doing this they have managed to increase sales and reinvest in the business each year.
When we weren’t packing soil into pots or separating plant seedlings, we spent some time helping to weed the vegetable beds that they have planted out for mostly personal use. Since L’Atelier des Bons Plants isn’t selling the fruits or vegetables of their plants but only the young plants themselves, the non-greenhouse space on the property is being used for a combination of cultivation and experimentation with open pollinated plant species. Comfrey (for those aforementioned cosmetic products) grows all around the property. Nearly all of the weeding we did was around young leek plants, which look deceptively like ambitious grass shoots until you learn to spot the differences.
We were really happy to spend the end of April at L’Atelier and will take so much away from our time there. We had amazing meals with lots of laughs, a true education on greenhouse management, plant propagation, small business practices and French culture, all thanks to the generosity of Laure and Téo. I have a feeling that I’ll be in touch with them as we start to look at the next chapter for our life, even if we don’t set our sights on an identical business. There’s something about the way that they live that is really inspiring.
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Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com