A dream team in Provence

Laven­der and einko­rn wheat are a dream team. This pair­ing makes the farm­ers of Provence hap­py, as well as their cus­tomers all over the world.

French Provence is at its most beau­ti­ful in sum­mer when the laven­der flow­ers. The moun­tain vil­lage of Simi­ane-la-Rotonde, north­east of Apt, in the Luberon region is known as an impor­tant cen­ter of laven­der-grow­ing. 70% of all of the essen­tial laven­der oil made in France finds its way through the vil­lage. Nico­las Lan­del is con­vinced that “the best laven­der in France grows here”. He is farm man­ag­er at Young Liv­ing and over­sees the French side of the US com­pa­ny spe­cial­is­ing in essen­tial oils.

In Provence there are 50 farm­ers grow­ing laven­der on around 2,500ha, as well as, on a small­er scale, oth­er herbs such as hys­sop, rose­mary or clary sage for the com­pa­ny. The farms are locat­ed with­in a radius of 150km from Simi­ane-la-Rotonde.

This coop­er­a­tion began 28 years ago. The Amer­i­can farmer Gary Young vis­it­ed Provence and a friend­ship began between him and Nico­las’ father, Jean-Noël Lan­del. “My father had a dis­tillery and con­tact with the farm­ers. They were ini­tial­ly skep­ti­cal about work­ing with the Amer­i­can.” Then the sales mar­kets began to weak­en, but Young con­tin­ued to pay good prices to the farm­ers for good qual­i­ty laven­der. “This laid the foun­da­tion for what is still a good work­ing rela­tion­ship today,” explains Mr Lan­del.

Nico­las Lan­del is con­vinced that “the best laven­der in France grows here”.

Mech­a­nised cultivation

Philippe Gail­lard (25) is one of these laven­der farm­ers. With his 60-year-old father he runs the farm “Les Mau­re­lieres”, a few kilo­me­tres out­side Simi­ane-la-Rotonde. The farm has an area of 125ha, 100ha of which are cur­rent­ly used to grow laven­der. In the next three years anoth­er 50ha will be added, of which the first 25ha will be plant­ed in 2020. An “ide­al area for grow­ing laven­der,” says Mr Gail­lard, describ­ing the coun­try­side he calls home.

We live here in an ide­al area for grow­ing laven­der

Philippe Gail­lard

Laven­der likes it to be sun­ny and dry and grows at alti­tudes between 600 and 1,400m, and best between 1,000 and 1,200m. “Les Mau­re­lieres” is sit­u­at­ed at 850m and the Luberon region has always been a tra­di­tion­al laven­der-grow­ing area. Laven­der has also been part of the Gail­lards’ agen­da for sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions. “That’s prob­a­bly a good 200 years old,” Mr Gail­lard says, point­ing to an old stone wall on his farm. Their trac­tors stand right next to it. The cultivation of laven­der used to be a lot of man­u­al work, but today it is mech­a­nised.

In organ­ic cultivation, as with Philippe Gail­lard, the laven­der is cul­ti­vat­ed in rota­tion with einko­rn wheat. Laven­der grows in the field for 10 years, with the sole addi­tion of organ­ic fer­tilis­er. In the first year it does not yet pro­duce any yield, but pro­duces 60% from the sec­ond year, and from the third year the plant reach­es its full size. After the 10th year the root­stocks are removed and einko­rn wheat crops, or, in the case of the Gail­lards, clary sage or hys­sop as well, fol­low for three to four years.

This John Deere 4240 has been at work for 40 years. “With­out it, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” says Mr Gail­lard. There are three more trac­tors from John Deere on the farm, the most recent one a 6125B.

Work in coop­er­a­tives

Some farm­ers dri­ve their sheep out to the fields to eat the weeds. They don’t like the smell of laven­der, so they leave it be. Philippe Gail­lard, how­ev­er, fights weeds mechan­i­cal­ly.

Until 40 years ago, the Gail­lards had their own dis­tillery for the extrac­tion of essen­tial oils on the farm. Nowa­days it is often more effi­cient to share the work. The farm­ers work in coop­er­a­tives. Some need trac­tors or machines, oth­ers, like Gail­lard, give their har­vest to dis­til­leries. One of them is not far from Simi­ane-la-Rotonde.

Benoît Cas­san man­ages this dis­tillery. He is in his ear­ly 40s and a farmer him­self and is already a fourth-gen­er­a­tion laven­der-grow­er. His farm has an area of 200ha. Already at the age of eight Benoît Cas­san was in the field with his father and grand­fa­ther, cut­ting bou­quets by hand. When Gary Young came to France look­ing for farm­ers to help him, the Cas­sans were there from the start. Mr Cas­san says he has gained a lot from the coop­er­a­tion over the years. “Most of all, I’ve learned to appre­ci­ate my work.”

Over five weeks each sum­mer a total of 300 peo­ple from all over the world get to expe­ri­ence this appre­ci­a­tion: they take part in a pro­gramme that goes by the mot­to “From Seed to Label”. They get to know the land­scape and farm­ers, vis­it Benoît Cassan’s dis­tillery, and a grain mill, learn more in lec­tures and help in the fields. There they learn how to cut bou­quets with a spe­cial sick­le, just like in the old days, or how to weed. Today the laven­der is har­vest­ed by machine. It is done using a trac­tor with a spe­cial mow­er deck that runs along­side and leads to a very deep tip­per. The group also gets to see this in action.

In the field next to the laven­der there is a very short grain with thick ears: einko­rn. Petit Épeautre, small spelt grain, as it’s called in the ver­nac­u­lar. It was once the most impor­tant cere­al on the bar­ren Proven­cal soil. Einko­rn tra­di­tion­al­ly fol­lows laven­der in crop rota­tion. Thanks to organ­ic cultivation, this old type of grain has nev­er com­plete­ly dis­ap­peared.

Ide­al crop rota­tion

With its low gluten con­tent einko­rn is not very suit­able for mak­ing bread. How­ev­er, it has a very good nutri­ent spec­trum, for instance with amino acids.

Einko­rn does not need fer­tilis­er or plant pro­tec­tion mea­sures even in these unfavourable habi­tats and is also good for soil qual­i­ty. In the past, grow­ing einko­rn was thus often an eco­nom­ic way of improv­ing soil fer­til­i­ty. Due to the long growth phase – einko­rn is sown in Sep­tem­ber and har­vest­ed in August of the fol­low­ing year – the grain forms very long roots. So it is very robust and can han­dle dry peri­ods and freak weath­er well.

The num­ber of farm­ers putting einko­rn back into crop rota­tion is increas­ing. In 2019, for exam­ple, €200,000 (about £170,800) were invest­ed in two new grain silos with a capac­i­ty of 600t each. They stand in the farm­yard of Jerome Rey­nard (42) in Sault, only 15 min­utes from Simi­ane-la-Rotonde. The farmer him­self cul­ti­vates 300ha, of which 100ha are intend­ed for laven­der, einko­rn and clary sage, with oth­er grains grown on the rest of the acreage. He oper­ates two grain mills and var­i­ous plants for rins­ing, clean­ing, siev­ing, shelling and sort­ing the einko­rn. “We feed the bran, which is pro­duced dur­ing grind­ing, to the pigs,” explains Rey­nard dur­ing the tour of the farm. The pods – a by-prod­uct of shelling – are mixed with laven­der flow­ers to fill pil­lows and sold all over the world.

Gael Boeglin, who is respon­si­ble for the tech­ni­cal main­te­nance of the sys­tems, and Cyril Corn­abe as qual­i­ty man­ag­er work in the ware­house. Sacks filled with einko­rn are deposit­ed in a bay, each one hold­ing one tonne. “The grain can eas­i­ly be stored for up to a year,” explains Cyril. For over­seas deliv­er­ies, for exam­ple, a truck trans­ports the grain to the port of Mar­seille, two hours away. One month lat­er the order is in the US. Today, einko­rn is avail­able as flour, bak­ing mix, gra­nola, whole grain, and also processed into noo­dles.

The small bak­ery, “Bar­ret”, on the main road of Simi­ane-la-Rotonde boasts an impres­sive vari­ety of einko­rn prod­ucts.

The dream team

The old grain vari­ety, einko­rn, is on-trend. For exam­ple, it is said to be eas­i­er to digest for peo­ple with gluten intol­er­ance. Demand is ris­ing, and not only abroad. Einko­rn wheat is also expe­ri­enc­ing a revival in France. Even the small bak­ery, “Bar­ret”, on the main road of Simi­ane-la-Rotonde boasts an impres­sive vari­ety of einko­rn prod­ucts. Nico­las Lan­del rec­om­mends the Boulan­gerie Au Pier­rot d’Antan in Rus­trel, half way along the road back to Apt. Fine-food lovers from far and wide make the pil­grim­age to this place.

Einko­rn grows along the road that takes you, while laven­der blos­soms on the slop­ing slopes, right up to the top. There they are again: the dream team. “Sim­ply an inge­nious crop rota­tion,” says Mr Lan­del. “One of the rea­sons why the farm­ers in this area are so proud is because they are able to con­tin­ue a tra­di­tion.”

Einko­rn cel­e­brates its come­back

Einko­rn (Triticum mono­coc­cum) belongs to the old­est arable crops in Cen­tral Europe and has been cul­ti­vat­ed since at least 3,000 BC. Einko­rn was wide­spread until Roman times. Lat­er, it was almost com­plete­ly replaced by bread wheat and durum wheat and only clung on in moun­tain­ous regions with bar­ren soils. Lay­ing claim to a total area under cultivation of around 1000ha, it is only of minor sig­nif­i­cance in Europe today (main­ly in Aus­tria, Italy, Hun­gary and France). The cultivation of Einko­rn has nev­er been aban­doned com­plete­ly in Provence, where it has tra­di­tion­al­ly fol­lowed the laven­der as part of crop rota­tion.

Einko­rn has been cel­e­brat­ing a come­back for about a decade. Once more, we can appre­ci­ate its mer­its: it is hardy, makes few demands on the soil, and copes well with peri­ods of drought. It also con­tains very lit­tle gluten and is eas­i­ly digestible. In Haute-Provence, farm­ers have joined forces to pro­mote the cultivation of einko­rn. Since April 2010, the vari­ety native to Haute Provence has car­ried the EU “Pro­tect­ed Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tion” seal.