We spent Christmas in France, on the farm that belongs to my sister Fiona’s partner, Adrian. La Grange du Bost is an organic chicken farm deep in the Dordogne countryside, and a blissful place to stay – see this post from two years ago. But this Christmas was not blissful. Adrian had been in hospital on and off since the summer, then cancer was diagnosed, and days before we arrived the doctors told them there was nothing more they could do. It was heart breaking. We did our best to make Christmas happen, and I was grateful at least that all of us – me, my husband, our kids, and my parents – could be around Fiona and her two teenage kids at such a devastating time.
Adrian died two weeks ago, aged 50.
I always knew he was someone special, but since his death I’ve been moved to find out how much he’d achieved in his life, quietly and without drama.
He was passionate about the environment, a passion he shared with my sister, and his farm has been free of weedkillers, pesticides and other nasties for the last two decades. The chickens were properly free-range on a rotating pasture system – some of them had walnut trees in their generous enclosures (and apparently enjoyed playing football with the windfalls in the autumn). The farm is small but rich in biodiversity, including rare wildflowers, and has woods as well as pasture. Just a few months ago they succeeded in getting hunting banned on their land (no mean feat in rural France).
Adrian’s approach to farming stood out in a landscape dominated by commercial cereal farmers, where mature woodlands and hedgerows are regularly razed to the ground to make way for yet more green desert.
I knew all this as we met in the local cemetery at Montagrier to collectively remember Adrian and bury the ashes, but I didn’t know the rest. That came out in the speeches. Adrian was involved in several communities: he knew the local farmers, he was part of a network of regional organic farmers and he was on the local village council. It was because of his role on the council that the Mayor was keen for his ashes to be laid to rest in the local cemetery, which happened to be one of Adrian’s responsibilities as a councillor.
As the Mayor and others spoke to a silent, diverse crowd of nearly a hundred people, I learnt that Adrian had bridged these various groups. As well as taking part in the local organic farmers’ cooperative, he used his councillor role to persuade the rest of the council against using herbicides in the cemetery and around the village. He was also responsible for the local school canteen, where – over many years – he befriended the head of catering (not an eco-warrior) and persuaded her to source more of the canteen’s ingredients locally and organically. Now, such a high proportion of meals have organic content that the school is held up as a model for miles around.
The farm is now no longer operating and my sister is winding down the business. There is a fair amount of pressure to sell it – it had never been very profitable and financial difficulties caused them both untold stress. But a few weeks before Adrian died, Fiona came up with a vision for the future of the farm that he strongly agreed with – to preserve it as wildlife refuge. To sell it would probably mean losing it to more intensive farming practices (goodbye trees); but to keep it intact would be an enduring legacy for Adrian and his passion for the environment. It would be a refuge of hope in a world where mammals, birds and insects are quietly vanishing forever.
Long may that legacy endure. Rest in peace Adrian.
You will go out in joy, and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands.