“Marie, she sits near the fire. She doesn’t like to be cold. ” At the beginning of January, in Sainte-Croix. At the Petit-Creux farm, Thomas Glauser, 34, takes a knowing look at Marie Payré, 28. The couple sets the table for dinner with a farmer friend. “Ah but you have a stove now,” says the guest, taking a seat. It must do you good! ” With his large square hands that one can imagine working the earth daily, Thomas puts logs back into the new stove which has become the subject of all attention. Even Ti-ba, the little Beauceron bitch of 2 and a half months, dozed off in front of the flames. “At the beginning, we were so happy that we were heating too much. It was up to 27 degrees here! ” Marie laughs as she opens a bottle of red wine.
Life on the farm can be learned. For now, the couple have only experienced winter in Sainte-Croix. Arrived in the small village in the north of Vaud in November 2020, Marie and Thomas have chosen to engage in beef farming at a time when the days are short, when the snow is falling in bundles and where the cold, associated with physical labor, exhausts the bodies. But it takes more to discourage them, because they are motivated by the ideal of an “unconventional” farm: smaller and more respectful of animals and the environment.
At Marie and Thomas, no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. So, the couple already know that in June, they will tick twice yes: for “a Switzerland without synthetic pesticides” and for “clean drinking water and healthy food”. A question of values, even if young farmers do not hide their face. “We are going to vote in favor because it would be incredible to change mentalities, to create a debate. But for the agricultural community, it is very difficult to conceive, ”admits Marie. “In my beliefs, I want a healthier world. But it’s a bit utopian to think of everything being able to change overnight, adds Thomas. If these initiatives pass, our way of working will not change. But we are an exception. ”
Whale, Karla and Cardamom
An exception that begins in 2019. At the time, Thomas plans to buy the domain of Sainte-Croix but the owners will not leave until the following year. The son and grandson of farmers, originally from the village of Châtonnaye, in Friborg, is looking for work. He offers his arms to a gardener friend and meets Marie, who has come for a change of scenery after several years in home care in Geneva. It’s love at first sight. During their first date, even before the first kiss, Thomas explains his great project to her. “I asked him if he was going to put a henhouse and he said ‘we could put one’. I really liked him saying “we”, smiles Marie.
At the end of 2020, lovers put their boxes in what will serve as a home and workplace. Upstairs, three bedrooms, not yet fully furnished. There are clothes that dry and a collection of bells, a memory of the time when Thomas was famous during wrestling festivals. On the ground floor, an office, a living room and a small kitchen where the sweet smells of homemade bread and wood fire mingle with the more animal scents of the stable, directly connected to the house by a door at the back of the room.
To pass through this door is to change the world. The stable has 13 cows. There is Bobine, Annina or Whale. In a calving box, Karla, the 14-year-old dean, watches over her little Cardamom, born on January 6. They are all simmental, white and red in tint, but each has its own character. A little further, in another building, live the 12 heifers and calves. With 25 cattle, the operation is rather modest. Right next door, the neighbor has a hundred animals. But Thomas and Marie do not aim to increase their numbers. In an agricultural world that aims for ever greater production, ever more automated for ever more profitability, the young couple are embarking on different values. “We aspire to diversity, and to diversify, we have to stay small,” explains Marie.
A whole cheese
This diversity starts with the cheese. Twice a day, Thomas goes to the cheese factory, a few meters from the farm. The Friborg resident trades in his work clothes for tall white boots, an apron and, essential accessory, a “Swiss Le Gruyère” cap. A nod to the origins. Since arriving, the couple have been experimenting with launching their own range. These products, Marie and Thomas offer them around them to assess their success. “There is a little aftertaste that reminds me of goat cheese, I don’t like it very much,” reports a neighbor. “It’s surprising, it’s true, but I like it a lot!” evaluates another. Patient, Marie explains that this unusual taste comes from the kefir grains used to curdle the milk. A more natural alternative to freeze-dried cultures developed in the laboratory.
Young farmers do not intend to stop there. Vegetables, breads and jams should be added to the dairy products and eggs of the self-service store they want to open soon.
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Smiles of accomplices while clearing the snow, little kisses here and there: between Marie and Thomas, there is a little air of Love is in the meadow. But without the glamor and pretenses of television. Agriculture is difficult and the couple do not try to water down this reality. Thomas’ alarm goes off at 5 a.m., Monday to Sunday. Marie’s has permission from 7 a.m. “I am very lucky! Thomas says he likes to be alone in the stable in the morning, but I don’t know if he says that to make me feel guilty, ”Marie laughs.
It is still pitch black when the 1m 89 snowman finds his cows. At the only sound of bells and mooing, Thomas must begin milking. Quite a step. Because at the Petit-Creux farm, we practice a method largely abandoned by the industry: pot milking. The majority of dairy farms today have mechanized milking parlors that operate with a pumping system. Process which, according to Marie and Thomas, deteriorates the quality of the product. Thanks to pot milking, no pumping. The claw, a system of four pipes attached to the udder of the cow, directly feeds a pot that Thomas then empties into balls before bringing them to a refrigeration tank. Having only two milking cups, it cannot milk more than two cows at the same time. A tedious job when you have to take care of 13 cows, twice a day. Unimaginable in a large farm.
“Minette’s death was a blow to morale”
After milking, it’s time for the calves to find their mothers. Here, unlike most cattle farms, the calves are not separated from their mothers just after birth but after four months. Closer to nature. “We are not inventing anything, we are adopting ways of doing things. It is above all to be in line with our values and to offer quality products, ”explains Marie.
The couple shares with the young people of their generation the desire for more sustainable consumption, quality food and a return to nature. But with Marie and Thomas, no vegetarian or vegan ideology. “I believe that man is made to eat meat or dairy products, says Marie. We want to show that it is possible to do so while respecting the animal. ”
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For now, the Petit-Creux cows are being sent to slaughter, but in the long term, the couple hope to find alternatives. Killing your cows does not necessarily mean lacking love for them. At Thomas, as at Marie, we feel a particular affection for each animal that they know by heart. And whose death, even natural, does not leave indifferent. Two weeks after the couple arrived, Minette, a cow from the farm, was not in good shape following a complicated calving. “One morning, she was dead,” says Thomas. Maybe from a heart attack. It was a blow to morale. ” It took three days for the knacker to arrive. In the meantime, Thomas placed her outside, lying down, with a blanket. “He wanted her to remain noble, to feel like she was sleeping,” says Marie.
Between tradition and modernity
To offer more respectful consumption, Marie and Thomas work the old-fashioned way. Driven by values imbued with modernity, they are trying to free themselves from mass distribution which, according to them, “perverts production”. So why are many farmers opposed to making a transition to an ecological way of doing things, as at the Petit-Creux farm? “Because we are very diverse. But if you have 70 hectares of wheat monoculture which represents a third of your income, you will want to use pesticides to ensure a good yield ”, explains Marie.
Thomas also points out that the ban on pesticides could push the conventional to adopt organic standards, lowering prices without reducing production costs. “There are a lot of parameters to take into account,” adds Marie. If consumers vote for these initiatives but turn to imported products because they are cheaper, it is pointless. We will have to promote Swiss production, but also find a way to train thousands of farmers in these new constraints. ”
For the moment, the strategy of the couple pays little. The 80 liters of daily milk are sold to the large distributor ELSA. At 62 cents per liter, the calculation is quick: you have to live on the savings. The situation worries Thomas, who wants to remain positive: “We will be able to make a living from it when we add value to our milk by processing it and selling our products on the farm and on the markets.” In the long term, the couple therefore hope to separate from the ELSA group. Question of values. Always.
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