Pascal Aspe, a biologist holding a PhD in forest trees genetics, has been training people for years to garden at Terre Vivante. He considers that “the most important aspect of the job is to help people realise that it is possible to plant anything if they have a bit of knowledge. This way, they don’t give up on their interest in ecology, and they can develop their projects.”
What brought you to Terre Vivante?
It all started with my passion for biology. My biology studies are strongly related to nature and the environment, however, they never taught me how to plant or grow my own vegetables. Wherever I lived throughout my life, I have always had access to garden plots. You see, studying biology and having a little space where I could cultivate vegetables went hand in hand.
Later, I realised that gardening is doing biology. When you learn how plants grow, what earthworms consume and how soil water is stored, you understand how vegetables feed themselves, how the compost is decomposing, and what happens when watering a plant’s leaves.
When I finished my PhD, my mother-in-law subscribed me to the Terre Vivante magazine (in English “Living Earth”) and someday, while going through it, I found a job opportunity as a garden manager. I didn’t think twice, I applied, and I never regretted my decision.
Is urban gardening possible, considering the different challenges such as the lack of green spaces?
At Terre Vivante we test different techniques of gardening that can be reproduced afterwards on small surfaces such as courtyards and even balconies. We also learn from developing gardens in particular places of the city where different challenges exist such as the lack of soil, the lack of quality soil, the lack of sunlight, or the lack of enough water.
When I give training on gardening at Terre Vivante, I try to complete people’s practice with scientific explanations and support them with new methods and techniques. To give you an example, some of them are interested in learning how they can develop their gardens on small and tiny parcels while others have several hectares and dream of having orchards. The most important for me is to help people understand that anything can be cultivated if they have the right knowledge.
How do people contact you so you can provide them with your expertise and help them cultivate a garden?
I see Terre Vivante as a triptych of knowledge.
First, Terre Vivante has existed since 1980. It started with the “Les 4 Saisons” magazine which still exists today and is published every two months. This magazine mainly provides readers with practical tips on gardening and represents the first way of transmitting knowledge.
Second, Terre Vivante also publishes books about gardening, cooking, health, well-being, and habitat.
Finally, Terre Vivante has 50 hectares of land where people learn gardening on-site with us.
You see, the magazine, the books, and the place are our three main channels of disseminating information.
How is Terre Vivante organised?
Today, Terre Vivante is composed of 32 people and they are here for the sake of practical ecology (which means providing people with solutions so that they can integrate ecology into their lives). Imagine that someday you decide to consume less water, less meat, or to produce your homemade cosmetics. You would probably look for advice in order to find solutions, right? Well, at Terre Vivante we inform, we advise, and we train.
Do you think Terre Vivante should plant a seed in every city across Europe?
Places that transmit knowledge on gardening and ecology definitely should exist everywhere. Urban agriculture becomes more and more important and farmers open their doors to people who are keen to learn how to work with the soil and the animals. I find it great that opportunities like Terre Vivante exist.