As our team picks the last chillies, squash and peppers, and the first autumn gale shakes a fine crop of cape gooseberries to the ground, I retreat to the office to try to make some sense of our accounts. After five years of growing lovely cabbages, spinach, sweetcorn, tomatillos, courgettes and peppers here on our farm in France (mainly to fill the ‘hungry gap’ in spring), the best I can say is that we are losing money more slowly than we were. Perhaps I should draw some consolation from the amount I have contributed to the French tax system.
After a dreadful start it was a pretty good growing year; we just never made back what we lost from the sodden and aphid-plagued lettuce in the spring. We are definitely making fewer mistakes and have grown some fine crops, and our team seems happy, harmonious and well organised, but the margin for error is very small. As a young man, when stuff went wrong I just bent over and worked harder and shouted at those around me to do the same; demonic determination and energy compensated for the mistakes. Twenty years later, trying to do the same thing in France isn’t working for all sorts of reasons; I don’t have the energy, I am not here enough, I’m not sure shouting works and the market has become a lot less forgiving, with tighter margins giving little room for failure, whether caused by inexperience or the weather. My accountant thinks I should pull the plug but I am a chip off the old block; as the farm lurched from crisis to crisis my father spent 50 years infuriating my mother by saying, “Do you know darling, I really think we are getting there”. I’ll give it another year.