Fermes de Figeac, from the agricultural cooperative to the territory factory
Economics and Meaning Seminar - Association des amis de l’EDP
Dominique OLIVIER, April 2017
École de Paris du management
On the borders of the Lot and the Cantal, the agricultural territory of Figeac has disintegrated over the years. Relative geographical isolation, a crisis favoring agro-industrial sectors to the detriment of small farms, the departure of young people, all contribute to a growing loss of added value. A small agricultural cooperative, however, refused this spiral of decline. If an industrial cluster, the Mecanic Valley, brings employment, the cooperative will innovate, create social links, by promoting short food circuits and by promoting local products in its stores. Green energies (solar, local wood, wind) will become a source of innovation and collective projects. Other legitimate and coherent initiatives carried out in common will soon see the light of day with the creation in 2015 of the PTCE Figeacteurs : opening of a nursery and a concierge with the industrialists, creation of a fablab with the IUT, etc. Companies and residents have reappropriated their territory and revitalized it through collective and innovative approaches.
As for the small cooperative, it is more prosperous than ever!
To download : fermes_de_figeac_es190417.pdf (260 KiB)
A rural territory in decline
The Fermes de Figeac cooperative is located in a territory of 80,000 hectares, between 250 and 700 meters above sea level in the foothills of the Massif Central, whose capital, Figeac, is a small town of ten thousand inhabitants. The Lot, the Dordogne, but also the Causse, the Limargue and the Ségala constitute its landscape identity. We created this cooperative in 1985 by merging two small cantonal cooperatives employing eight people at the time. Today, we count, with the subsidiaries, one hundred and sixty employees, including ninety-six for the cooperative itself, and we gather six hundred and fifty members. Our turnover is 18 million euros for the cooperative, plus 8 million for the subsidiaries. Our core business is agricultural supplies, but we now have stores under the Gamm Vert brand in each canton, a garden center, and a cooperative for the use of agricultural equipment (CUMA) that provides services to our members. We have also taken over a materials trade including a sawmill, agricultural mechanics garages and energy subsidiaries.
We are in a sector that appears to be very agricultural, but in reality farmers represent only 9% of the territory’s active population, far behind the craftsmen and employees of subcontractors in the aeronautics industry. Twenty years ago, visionaries created a cluster, Mecanic Valley, and we are fortunate to have an aeronautical industry that is developing, since its workforce has grown in ten years from 1,500 to 2,500 employees, which today represents 30% of local employment, with a prospect of 1,000 additional jobs in the next five years.
We are located in a medium mountain farming area, with farms of 60 to 70 hectares on average. When I arrived in 1984, they covered 12 hectares and, in 2020, they will reach 120 hectares, which corresponds to 30% fewer farmers every ten years, an evolution roughly equivalent to that observed in Aveyron, Cantal or Brittany. For reasons of land configuration, cattle breeding is dominant with an annual production of 66 million liters of milk (i.e., three-quarters of the departmental production), which corresponds to 25,000 suckling cows (i.e., 60% of the departmental herd). The grassland production, which is based on 38,000 hectares of meadows, is therefore essential not only for the feeding of herbivores, but also for the preservation of the landscape and for its indispensable ecological role as a « carbon sink ». The rest of the territory is made up of 37,000 hectares of forests that are little or not valued, and 5,000 hectares of cultivated land (cereals and corn for animals).
In 1994, a statement of fact is essential. We are confronted with a global loss of added value with a rural territory in decline on which the traditional sectors dominate and where a deregulated market is imposed, subjected to the impossible to anticipate fluctuations of the world markets. In the past, there was an important local production of strawberries and other red fruits, as in all the foothills of the Massif Central. That is why Andros moved to a nearby region in the 1970s, where six hundred jobs were created ; but now the fruit comes from Poland, Ukraine or Chile. Corn seed, tobacco and pork were also produced here. Today, the family workforce no longer exists, the farms have become larger and more robotic, and high value-added production has disappeared. The rural world is no longer agricultural, the professional unit has disappeared and has given way to entrepreneurial agriculture.
From the short circuit to the proximity circuit
In 1994, I had the chance to meet Raymond Lacombe, an agricultural leader who led me into the association Sol et Civilisation. We wanted to test a heritage audit and asked two young engineers from AgroParisTech to help us understand the role of each on our territory. We only understood some of their conclusions a few years later. They told us that young people would like to stay, but with a decent quality of life. They also told us that parents would like their children to stay, but again, with a decent quality of life. Above all, they noticed that the inhabitants of the territory did not identify themselves as being from either the Cantal or the Lot. We then realized, belatedly, that if people are from nowhere, they cannot be actors. As we are a mountain economy, they did not cross the Causse to go to Cahors, so the meat and milk went to Cantal. It took twenty-five years to get to the point where today they say « We are from the Figeac region » and can feel that they are actors in the common goods.
Two or three farmers produced yogurt, others produced fresh sausage or other farm specialties. In 1994, we opened our first regional products space in our 1000 square meter Gamm Vert store in Figeac, to encourage our customers to consume local products. In 2000, we were aiming for a turnover of 150,000 euros, today we achieve 3 million euros! Our cooperative union then asked us to spread the concept to all our stores and we set up a subsidiary to develop it. In 2002, we asked an engineering trainee to carry out a study on the installation of young farmers. At the end of this work, he told us: « You don’t have an agricultural problem, you have a territorial problem! You are an old territory, the second after Creuse. There are jobs, incomes are increasing, but you are on the verge of a major crisis, because tomorrow you will have no more workers. Other sectors also have this problem and you need to work on it together with all the actors present on your territory.
With local business leaders, we then created the association Mode d’emploi with the aim of managing an employers’ group, and then, little by little, to make it a think tank on the future of the territory. In 2003, the legal expert of the Coopératives de France informed us that there was a method from the social and solidarity economy (SSE), the societal balance sheet, which was being tested by about ten cooperatives and could be useful to us. During one day, we gather farmers and we ask them, by means of a computerized box, about fifty questions concerning the performance of the cooperative, communication, governance, etc. We repeat this procedure with farmers who are not members of the cooperative. We repeat this procedure with employees, then with administrators and, finally, with local people. This assessment confirms that, if we are not careful, a schism may arise between the agricultural world and the territory : associations begin to be set up against the spreading of liquid manure, against agricultural activities that disturb the peace and quiet of the new residential areas of the city during weekends, etc., all things that are completely incomprehensible to farmers.
We then decided to send our company newspaper to all the elected officials and organized a cooperative festival which, from then on, brought together six or seven hundred walkers every year, moving from farm to farm. The territory, previously felt as a constraint, can become our ally.
As we wanted to map our different processes, in 2003 we were certified ISO 9001, then ISO 14001 and today ISO 26000, which corresponds to everything that concerns sustainable development. In 2000, the mad cow crisis hit the world of breeding hard and our farmer unionists who, when they went to the meat sections of the supermarkets in Figeac, realized that nothing came from the region. They then asked me to create our own butcher shop, which, alone in France, we are going to do in our Gamm vert store in Figeac. Today, we own three of them and, from a forecast of 300,000 euros for the store in Figeac, we have increased to 1.6 million euros thanks to an extraordinary reflex of appropriation of the products of their territory by the consumers. Indeed, consumers want to know the local farmer from whom they buy their products. We now employ eleven butchers in all of our butcher shops, who we have trained by giving them vocational training certificates. However, we are not talking about a label, but about proximity. We are not talking about short circuit either, whose definition stipulates that it must not include more than one intermediary, which allows, for example, a producer from our area to sell in Strasbourg ; we are talking about proximity circuit. In 2017, the sale of products from our small territory will represent 15 million euros and twenty-five jobs.
What future for our cooperative?
In 2008, we asked ourselves the question of the future of our small agricultural cooperative at a time when all the cooperatives were merging in a multi-departmental framework to make economies of scale. Not being from the Lot or the Cantal, we did not know where to turn. Moreover, our administrators and members wanted to keep their independence of thought. With Sol et Civilisation, we then proposed to do a collaborative foresight work that would last a whole winter. We surrounded ourselves with about twenty people, representative of the population of the territory and collectively developed three possible scenarios for our future.
In the first scenario, Caught by the current, agriculture remains based on the classic meat and milk sectors, and not on differentiation ; the territory loses its farmers, becomes a commonplace, residential area with no main activities ; the cooperative remains confined to its traditional trades ; it is less and less supported by its three hundred remaining members and will end up being absorbed, around 2020, by another cooperative.
Territorial projects are far removed from the concerns of the sectors.
In the second, Avis de tempête, agriculture is undergoing a double crisis, first food and then ecological, with liberalism taking hold everywhere. The 2008 crisis, which saw the price of wheat triple and hunger cause riots in the Maghreb countries, is a foreshadowing. What is important for the government is to feed Paris at the lowest cost, even if it means bringing in a lot of pork from Romania and milk from Denmark ; the territory is then reduced to a countryside « reservoir » of leisure space for urban dwellers or expansion for cities. The rural area is not competitive in itself. The cooperative is limited to a few profitable activities and eventually disappears, becoming a territorial service provider, managing rural works, etc. Of its 150 remaining members, two thirds are established on large ranching-type farms of 150 hectares, and the rest on short circuits, the only possible development for them.
In the third scenario, Change of course / tacking, agriculture produces with greater respect for ecosystems, and in a significant way to meet local and national needs ; the territory has become an enterprising space and offers « green » added values, in the framework of a city-countryside agreement, for the supply of energy and food. We have wind, sun, water, beautiful landscapes : limiting ourselves to selling only basic tons of wheat is no longer the only way out. The cooperative is evolving and rethinking its activities, innovation is at the heart of its activities and organization. The natural decrease in the number of members is progressively compensated by the installation of young people, sometimes coming from other territories, with projects. A strong hiring of competences is necessary in order to respond to this evolution.
It is on this third scenario that we have been working since then.
We have had a lot of discussions with the Les Salines de Guérande cooperative, which was faced with the same type of problem. Faced with the domination of refined white salt, the salt workers advised their children to leave the Guérande area. La Baule wanted to expand into the salt marshes by filling them in to make marinas. A few salt workers rebelled, created their cooperative and, in twenty years, they installed three hundred young salt workers from all over France.
In 2008, the Pays de Figeac, in the administrative sense of the term, was still dynamic. Its director, noting that we already had a business club, suggested that we create a one-stop shop. So we set up a joint service for very small businesses. The territory, which until then had been a constraint, became a matrix. In 2009, we obtained ISO 14001 certification, a standard that defines the criteria of an environmental management system. In 2010, this same director, given the success of our local circuits, suggested that the territory take ownership of them. We then launched a territorial food plan as part of an operation called « Terre de Figeac, mêlée gourmande ». The cooperative and its producers become a family within a game of seven families, with restaurant owners, distributors, collective catering, processors, etc. By bringing us together around the theme of food, the country allows us to meet actors of the territory that we did not know, in particular from the SSE. Our centers of interest have thus gradually moved closer to the social economy. We then participated in the elaboration of a landscape charter in order to preserve the characteristics of our environment and to avoid anarchic urbanization. The study cost 80,000 euros. The country financed three quarters of it, but the elected officials refused to finance the balance. To everyone’s surprise, it is the business club that will pay for it. Thus, the more time passes, the more the connections with the territory multiply.
Rethinking cooperation jobs through innovation
Following the prospective study that we conducted, it was necessary to rethink the jobs of the cooperation via innovation, our territory being a particularly favorable space for green energies. After several visits to Freiburg, a pioneering territory in terms of renewable energy, with our board of directors, we launched a first photovoltaic roof on our garden center. In 2008, a mutualized project, in the form of a cooperative, for the construction of 7 hectares of photovoltaic roofs on 190 agricultural buildings will follow this first experiment. The farmers finance their installation with a 20% contribution, the rest being borrowed by the cooperative and, each year, they receive royalties from the solar production which are used to repay their loan. Today, 450 buildings are equipped with this system, which is equivalent to the electricity consumption of two thousand five hundred homes, excluding heating. All the roofs are connected and we have created a management and maintenance department by hiring twelve employees, engineers and technicians. To date, the electricity produced is injected into the network, but thanks to the new law, we will soon move to self-consumption. As the operation has proven to be extremely profitable, we have set ourselves the principle of returning one third of the profits to the founders and putting a second third in reserve, the rest being reinvested in other actions in the service of the territory.
In 2009, we launched, on the same principle, the construction of the first wind farm and participatory Lot, with the developer Valorem. We wanted to take a 40% stake in the company, which meant finding 2.5 million euros quickly. Still lacking funds, we solicited local savings, placed in banks at 0%, to invest in this project. We raised 3.5 million euros and had to return the surplus! This has deeply marked us. For us, the short circuits are not only food, but also energy, money, etc. From now on, for the inhabitants of the territory, these windmills are theirs. Today, on the same model, we are working on methanization projects. To develop local wood resources, in 2010 we bought the Lafargue sawmill in Aynac, the last one in the area. To this end, we created a SCIC Bois Énergie and invested in a new, more efficient sawmill. To develop this local wood industry, we have also recruited a wood salesman and an experienced sawyer. Eight jobs have now been created and we have a turnover of 3 million euros from this activity.
Taking ownership of the territory
As soon as you start a solidarity loop on the territory, you realize that the projects arise one after the other! All this required a lot of energy between 2010 and 2015, but today we are growing our sales by 5% per year. As in the food or energy circuits, we see a reflex of the inhabitants to appropriate the territory. It works because the cooperative has never deceived them and they trust a local player they know well. For us, what is important is innovation. If we stay with traditional channels, we will systematically fail. We have therefore learned to work with other local players. For me, innovation is where projects emerge on which no one is legitimate alone and where everyone has a common interest.
To work in a rural environment, you have to rely on a triad of actors: elected officials, the socioeconomic environment and civil society. In asking ourselves how these three pillars could be linked, we hypothesized that it was human resource management that made it possible. In the think tank in which we were participating at the time, we turned to forward-looking management of jobs and skills (GPEC) as used by companies and despite the bad reputation it had among trade unionists as a prelude to relocation. We quickly developed our own version of it: the territorial management of jobs and skills (GTEC), soon renamed ATAC, territorial anticipation of activities and skills. In 2011, in partnership with the Pays de Figeac, we asked Sol et Civilisation to accompany us in the implementation of this ATAC. A researcher working on a thesis at INRA and AgroParisTech helped us with this work for three years. The starting hypothesis was that the territory can only be alive if it innovates. For it to innovate, it must find skills ; but which ones will be useful in 2030 ?
This work was developed in two stages, a time of forecasting, with a horizon of 2030, then a time of mobilization action in the direction of a few companies. Around a table, we regularly brought together, for several hours at a time, twenty-five people: elected officials, business leaders, trade unionists and people from civil society. One year later, at the seventh meeting, all were still present and willing to continue. From these meetings, several scenarios emerged :
scenario 1 : the Figeacois remains on the quayside of globalization and activities move closer to Toulouse ;
scenario 2 : activities are reinvented and people are the actors ;
scenario 3 : at the heart of development, the economy is innovative, social and united.
We realized that the economic approach alone did not move the territorial system. It could only be set in motion if we played on both governance, which we have not resolved to date, and on training. From a territory initially perceived as a constraint, then as an ally, we would then manage to experience it as a future. Unfortunately, the NOTRe law came along with the merging of communities of communes, the reduction of public funds and the disappearance of the Pays entity. It was also accompanied by the disappearance of a space for inter-communal dialogue and the effervescence that had appeared on the territory. We decided to continue despite everything. Being very close to the SSE Lab, we had worked with it on the development of Territorial Poles of Economic Cooperation (PTCE). With a dozen or so co-founders, we created Figeacteurs, based on this model, which today brings together eighty contributors and employs three people around the question: « What can we do together that we cannot do alone? Starting from a blank page is not easy, because we lack facilitators. When we go to the Caisse des Dépôts, they tell us that they are ready to finance our wind projects, but this is not what we expect, because we find our financing locally ! What we lack and what we need to finance is the facilitation, the engineering and the animation necessary to make the projects emerge.
In the end, this always raises the question of governance and today, the cooperative, to assume its role, must be invested in the PTCE.
Rewarding territorial issues
Three years ago, two large companies, each with 1,000 employees, asked us about the lack of nursery places. The elected officials, who were asked, did not have the resources to create new ones. With four companies, we decided to create a daycare center with twenty cribs. It has been open for one year and will soon double in capacity. Ratier Figeac, the aeronautical equipment manufacturer located in our region, was not legitimate to do it alone, but together, it became possible. At the moment, we are experimenting with a concierge service. People on integration programs do the shopping for employees who don’t have the time, bring and pick up their dry cleaning, etc., and the employees find all this in their locker, when they leave work.
Today, in the Figeac area, 7,500 tons of vegetables are consumed, of which only 400 are produced locally. How can market gardening be re-established? In the PTCE, we found a company that we did not know, the APEI, which takes care of handicapped people and employs about a hundred people. One of its activities is catering, for which it already produces 700 meals a day. Together, we are going to create a vegetable factory, which will be an adapted company with the objective of producing 2,000 meals per day and which will work with a company that integrates people through market gardening. In this way, we are tackling together an important territorial issue that none of us would have been able to deal with on our own. We are also developing a project on mobility. Four thousand five hundred people responded to our survey on this subject via their HR department. On average, they travel 20 kilometers a day, just to get to work. Twenty round trips per month represents one third of the minimum wage. If the price of gas goes up, people either don’t go to work or they move closer to the city and leave the area. Today, with a number of business leaders, we are considering launching a call for tenders for electric cars in order to set up carpooling spaces. In this business club, we are also working on the employment of spouses, an issue that sometimes hinders the recruitment of a skill that interests us.
We can clearly see that what links these initiatives together is the social economy. The role of our cooperative is then to serve as a transmission belt between companies in the traditional economy, which need daycare centers or have mobility issues, and those in the social economy already present on the territory. Our most important challenge is, of course, the activity of farmers whose demographic evolution leads to the departure of children from the territory, to the enlargement of farms, but also to the impoverishment and loss of added value. However, other young people dream of taking over a farming activity, but are prevented from doing so by the impossibility of acquiring land while earning a living. Our current questioning concerns the opportunity to create a land cooperative to finance these takeovers thanks to local and citizen savings. For us, the necessary conditions for our action were :
an openness to others and to new ideas, through the patrimonial audit, the societal balance sheet, the prospective,
participation in numerous conferences and associative networks, strategic watch, study trips, etc.
the creation of places and tools allowing to exchange and to act with all the stakeholders : foresight club, business club, CUMA, SCIC, commission of the Country, etc.
the integration of new skills (environmental engineer, energy specialist, facilitator) and the development of partnerships with the Pays, the water agency, the ONIGC (Office nationale interprofessionnel 4 des grandes cultures), the European territories, etc.
the fact of giving time, a long time, to the different actors so that they appropriate the projects.
As a result of our prospective action, in 2015 we identified thirteen major strategic challenges, including agricultural activity, added value, innovation, organizational fluidity, etc. We were inspired by the movement of liberated companies to break up the cooperative’s organization in order to leave room for innovation and for everyone to be a player. We have set up fifteen action groups, which prefigure the future organization chart, in each of which farmers and employees take charge of responding to the issues identified. All this is summarized in the sentence defining our vision that we wrote last year: « To contribute in the long term to the development of an agriculture that manages the living, with high added value, innovative and open to others, to promote, from our territory, a sustainable development at the service of all people. »
Subsidiarity and common goods
A speaker : Where do you find the money for such operations ?
Dominique Olivier : It’s not easy every day ! Of the 36 million euros for the photovoltaic project, for example, the farmers contributed 6 million in the form of personal loans, which then made it possible to raise the other 30. In a way, there was no self-financing, but we discussed with a banking pool for three years and nine hundred e-mails were exchanged before concluding. For the wind farm, on the other hand, the developer, who had the upper hand, offered to take 40% of the capital, which represented 3 million euros. Our bank imposed conditions and deadlines that did not suit us. So we went to the field and, three months later, we had raised the money. While bank savings hardly earn any interest, when you present people with a project that makes sense and offers a 6% return, they know how to take it! What is more complicated, for us as for our colleagues everywhere in France, is to find the skills in animation and engineering for the PTCEs. We are currently working on a methanization project. We have hired a specialized engineer who has been working on it for three years, with implementation scheduled for one year. In order to be able to pay him, we have submitted an application to France Active and the Comptoir de l’innovation. Fortunately, we met people from the SSE who believed in what we were doing.
Sp.: The extreme centralism of France means that the authorities neither know nor understand what is happening in the territories. Why does this work in your country?
D. O. : For me, the central question is that of subsidiarity. I only entrust to the higher level what I cannot do at the commune level. We often say this, but we don’t always live it. When we go to the territories, we see great stories everywhere: the Les Salines de Guérande cooperative, the Juratri SCOP, the Archer PTCE, Môm’artre, etc. Innovation starts when you are in a network with people who have ideas. Twenty years ago, an elected official, president of the regional council, had the brilliant idea, with the boss of the large company Ratier Figeac, to create the Mecanic Valley cluster in Figeac. Today, two to three hundred people are hired there every year. All the companies in this cluster have joined forces to form a local production system (SPL). At the same time, this big boss offered to help his executives who wanted to leave financially to create their own company, with the proviso that, after five years, they would generate half their turnover independently of Ratier. Figeac Aéro, which will soon have two thousand employees, is also one of these beautiful stories. Without really knowing it, they have cooperated. Today, many specialists know how to manage public or private assets. On the other hand, managing common goods, which belong to everyone and to no one, can only be done when one is an actor in a territory and by using specific methods of animation and facilitation. Tomorrow’s innovation and added value will probably be born around these common goods.
In search of skills
Sp.: Are you working with the Mecanic Vallée cluster ?
D. O. : Before creating the PTCE, being from the agricultural world, I did not know the mechanical people. Since they have been part of the business club, together we have created a crèche, we are setting up the concierge service, we are working on mobility, etc. We have a common challenge, that of improving the quality of life of our employees. We have a common challenge, that of attractiveness. Today, some machines are not working because companies lack managers and engineers. Skills are changing rapidly and Ratier, which twenty years ago had fifty managers for every thousand employees, now employs two hundred and fifty engineers out of its twelve hundred employees. No one can solve this issue of attractiveness alone.
Sp.: How did you work on the attractiveness of the region?
D. O. : It’s a daily job. We have an unemployment rate of 5% and all companies are looking for employees. No one will have the answer alone, together we can get it. For people to want to come, there must be daycare, a concierge service, schools, a hospital and the same benefits as in an urban area. We are setting up a sponsorship system for the employment of the spouse. We are taking it step by step and making sure that communication is shared. We see two types of newcomers : young graduates, who are looking for a first experience but leave the city after a few years, and older people, whose children have left home and who are looking for a better quality of life away from the city. Recently, I have also seen farms being taken over, one by a Belgian, the other by a Norman. We wrote in 2008 that if the territory became attractive, people would come. But as for the conditions of attractiveness, it is difficult for us, for the moment, to measure the nature and the impact.
That said, training is also a way to recruit high-level skills. In Figeac, the elected officials have obtained the creation of an IUT in mechanics, attached to the Jean Jaurès University in Toulouse, which also offers training in commerce and medical-social services, and I have been asked to be one of the administrators. What frightens me, however, is the disconnection between the world of training and the world of business; professors do not know the companies in the area, and the latter in turn ignore the academic world. How, then, can we create these necessary links? We are thinking about ways in which companies could help young people with limited resources to study at this university. If, today, we have created a fablab, we have chosen to do so in this IUT so that companies can come and do prototyping and create bridges with the teachers.
Sp.: Are you interested in cultural policy ?
D. O.: Elected officials have been very involved in creating festivals and other cultural events. However, when we do things on the territory, they are sometimes afraid that we will take their place, which is in no way our ambition. The whole debate is then to find out how we can cooperate.
Sharing to innovate
Sp.: What is the difference between anticipation and forecasting ?
D. O.: The interesting thing about foresight is that when you put people around a table to draw up scenarios for twenty years from now, a time when they will probably no longer be involved, egos fade away and the games of actors disappear. More than the very short term horizon of the GPEC, what interests us is to see the twenty year horizon and to have a collaborative foresight that puts people on the way to that horizon. It is only when I have done my anticipation to 2030 that I can put together my strategic plan for 2020.
Sp.: The « transferability » of great stories is very difficult because of their very strong contextualization. How do you see the role of what you call facilitators ?
D.O.: I believe in the role of a person, trained and legitimate to put people around a table and determine with them the problem that arises. That person should come from outside the territory, have no stake in it, and leave at the end of the study. This is what we have conceptualized with AgroParisTech. This work, which is essential and must be done at regular intervals of three or four years, must however be crossed with concrete operations that put people in tension for action.
Sp.: Tocqueville emphasized the important role of the Protestant religion and its rituals in the construction of the American identity. Has anything similar happened in your territory?
D. O.: The territory was initially very poor, with a summer expatriation of men to the rich farms of Cantal. All the development then took place, in the 1960s, around the Christian Agricultural Youth movement (JAC) which was the backbone, and with great union leaders like Raymond Lacombe.
Sp.: Do you include in your reflections the notion of ecosystem ?
D. O.: The Fermes de Figeac cooperative is not an ecosystem, the territory is. It has taken us thirty years to develop this living system and to understand that the future is built with others. For my part, I am an everyday practitioner. We have intuitions and recipes. Some actions work, others don’t, and then we stop them. It is the multiplication of the actions, the places of speech and the projects that will make the ecosystem become more complex, mesh and open. This is where the work of facilitation is essential in order for projects to emerge. I think we are on the right track, we see what we should probably do, but I am not at the stage of drawing up a business plan for the ecosystem, and I am not sure that one is needed.
We are still surprised that today a small agricultural cooperative, with a radius of action of only 20 kilometers, is still there, in the face of the world of large cooperatives. For thirty years, people have been asking: « When ?", but in those thirty years, it has grown from ten to one hundred and sixty jobs, and that surprises us. People now come to us and ask how we manage to combine local and global. In fact, I deeply believe that everyone, whatever their position or intelligence, has the capacity to innovate as soon as they are able to exchange with others, outside of the pyramid structures that break this relational fabric.