Basile Piot: agriculture in short circuitsPhotography : Jérôme Prévost - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme
The son of farmers, Basile Piot is well aware of the hardships of the job : the long working days, the scanty holidays, the hazards of unpredictable weather events, the sharp ups and downs of selling prices. Still, he decided without the slightest hesitation to continue down that path, on the back of a strong conviction : it is possible to practice agriculture differently, to stick to the calling of farming the land while overhauling the way to do it.
His studies just finished, he started in 2012 with a first experience, setting up a strawberry field for self-service picking in La Chapelle-en-Serval. His parents granted him the use of a parcel of their farming land favorably located near a well-traveled road ; he planted strawberries, built a shed to welcome clients, weigh their pickings and collect the price. Success was almost immediate. A clientele made up mostly of retirees on weekdays, and families on weekends answered the call right from the beginning. It has been growing steadily ever since through word-of-mouth and because customers find here, at a fair price, flavourful fruit, grown outdoors in good soil and brought without delay nor intermediaries from the field to the plate.
Emboldened by that first success, Basile was looking for ways to develop his business when a chance encounter led him to discover in Belgium a concept still unknown in France. Again a concept of self-service picking, but this time with flowers and a huge difference in the operational process : no watching, no presence, no control to cash in customers’ payments, only a moneybox on the side of the field – in other words, pure and simple trust in people’s honesty, in the fact that those who stop to cut flowers will do so tidily, without devastating the plantations, and will pay the price of their harvest before leaving.
Belgium is admittedly a country that is geographically close to France, but culturally more different than it seems. Would betting on trust, which succeeded over there, prove effective here as well ? Basile was sceptical but puzzled enough to want to try. He therefore decided to experiment the idea at two locations, once again carefully chosen along busy roads, visible from the roadway and where drivers could stop and park without danger. The bet turned out to be a winning one. There are of course incidents here and there, undoubtedly also cheaters who take away flowers without paying their due, but by and large clients play by the rule : happy to be trusted, they make sure, in return, to behave properly ; besides, flowers are a pleasure buy, not an object of greed or theft.
Today Basile farms eight flower fields, under the name Les Fleurs de Basile, each the size of a football pitch, planted with different flower species, in order both to diversify the range of products and to stretch revenue over the longest possible period by playing on the seasonality of the various plants : tulips as soon as mid-march, gladioli, sunflowers and dahlias until november. From march to october, Basile is mostly in the fields to till, sow and tend the crops. Winter, on the other hand, is time for thinking through management optimisation and development strategies.
As for the future, Basile is preparing to start a new culture, asparagus this time, which will be sold directly by the roadside next to the field, as well as at his strawberry-picking facility. He is also planning to expand his distribution network by supplying « La Ruche Qui Dit Oui », which just opened up in Senlis. Long-term, he hopes to double the number of fields that he works. Then time will come to take up his parents’ farm, and maybe have it evolve toward biological agriculture or conservation agriculture, in order to both preserve the environment and develop a sustainable economic model.
In spite of all the scaremongering about the crisis of the agricultural sector, Basile Piot remains confident. Our territory enjoys a number of advantages, with fertile soil, relatively little exposure to weather catastrophes and the vicinity of the large consumption basin of the greater Paris area. Moreover, we do have locally the know-hows that are requested to nurture innovation and quality upgrading. It is just up to us to seize the freedom to undertake projects, experiment, and be bold enough to try new solutions.