In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation – I’m posting a shorter article each week with a look at a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: a look at some of the country’s most picturesque farmlands. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume in September.
A city boy in the center of France
I grew up on a farm in southern Oklahoma, but in no meaningful way am I a “farm boy.” And yet…when I drive through central France, there’s something about the agricultural landscape that really calls out to me. You might think the Auvergne is nothing but extinct volcanoes and sharp hills – but it’s also one of the great “breadbasket” regions of France. So this week, please enjoy some of my favorite landscape pictures showing this other side of the country!
What's the appeal?
There are a couple of reasons these scenes appeal to me:
- The historical interest -- knowing there’ve been farms here (and people working on them) at least since the Iron Age. These are the connective tissue, the spaces that lie between the medieval villages of the Auvergne. They were protected by the local castle on a nearby hill, but these fields outside the castle walls were also the first part of the country to be stripped and burned when the Romans or Visigoths or Vikings or English came through…
- One of the great benefits of living in central France is getting to enjoy the quality and flavor of local produce – the fruits and vegetables that have been part of French cuisine since long before the “farm to table” trend hit restaurants. The “aftermarket” products – cheeses, wines, jellies, honey, mustards, and more – are also pretty special in this part of the country.
- Even though I’m not a farmer myself, I come from many generations of small family farmers. My brother and I still own the family farm we inherited in Oklahoma, a farm bought by our great-grandfather when he migrated out from other farms back east. One of the great pleasures of traveling with my Dad was the interest he took in how farmers do their work in France, in England, and in other parts of the world. On his first visit when we had moved to France, he was especially pleased to learn that the Limousin cattle he raised in Oklahoma had their roots in the farms of the French Limousin to the west of our home in Clermont-Ferrand.
Finally, I was brought up to respect the work of others - and there's no doubt that farming in this part of France is extremely hard work! Especially in the central parts of the country, fields are rocky, soil is thin, and farms are built on the steep slopes of the volcanic mountains that define the region. I just listened to a radio interview with the son of a French farming family, and he spoke of years with no vacations, no time off from the farm except for an occasional Saturday-afternoon trip to the movies in a nearby town... and I was impressed again at the dedication and effort required to make one of these family operations work. No one gets rich doing this - but France is a richer country because of the people who make it their lives!
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