I just came back from a trip to France with a wish: what if American farmers went into the tourism business?
Imagine comfortable accommodations in quiet, picturesque country settings, where vacationers awaken to the stirring of farm animals, take their children to witness the milking of the goats or cows, receive gardening tips from experts, explore the surrounding hiking trails and, at the end of the day, enjoy the produce–the cooking even–of their hosts. All this, and more, for a significant lower rate than if staying at a hotel or in a regular vacation rental. Farmers would enjoy an extra source of income while exposing the public to their work and lifestyle. Families would be given affordable access to a vacation filled with healthy, possibly life-changing, experiences.
This is precisely what the organization Accueil Paysan has been promoting in France since 1987. From the onset, their aim has been to connect producers and consumers with a clear view to build wide public support for sustainable farming practices.
You read this right : in order to join the Accueil Paysan network, farmers must abide by a strict charter that defines their mission towards the public, including the kind of farming they practise. This charter requires them to uphold the ten principles of “Agriculture Paysanne” that lie at the root of the Confédération Paysanne, a French farming union co-founded in 1987 by José Bové and affiliated with Via Campesina, a global coalition of over 148 organizations that advocates family-farm-based sustainable agriculture.
These principles are: 1. Keeping volumes of production in check so as to allow more farmers to enter the market and make a living 2. Solidarity between farmers 3. Respect for Nature 4. Focus on abundant resources while sparing scarce resources 5. Transparency throughout the food supply chain 6. Quality of the products (with regard to both taste and safety) 7. Maximum autonomy of each unit of production 8. Partnerships among rural actors 9. Protection and promotion of the diversity of crops and animals 10. Long-term and global thinking
It should be noted that abiding by these principles, and being granted the Accueil Paysan label, is unrelated to sporting the organic farming label “Certifié Agriculture Biologique” given by the French government (aligned on European regulations since last year, this label has become even less constraining than it used to be).
I was encouraged to learn that Accueil Paysan has become a global story, with more than 1,000 members in 24 countries from Chili to India. Members provide diverse forms of services on top of the traditional rentals/B&B/camping, including hosting kids camps. They’re currently exploring opportunities to welcome school children on day trips, as well as developing partnerships with local authorities to receive youth-at-risk for extended stays.
I know that some organic family farms in America, like Full Belly Farm in California or Miracle Farm in Virginia, are taking similar initiatives on an individual basis. In the state of Maine, the Maine Farm Vacation Association promotes farm vacation lodging, but without any of the requirements put on farmers by the charter of Accueil Paysan.
So how about organic farmers organizing to present this country’s urban and suburban crowds with a powerful and irresistible invitation to come their way and make their acquaintance? The sustainable farming movement would surely benefit and, with it, the health of the people and of the planet.