Agricultural co-working teaches budding farmers trade tools

A farm in Belberaud outside Toulouse in France is seeking to promote a "more sober, more durable" alternative to industrial farming, one that is adapted to small holdings.

Novice farmers harvest vegetables at Hundredth Monkey or Le 100e singe collaborative farm in Belberaud near the southern French city of Toulouse.

They bandy about terms like “co-working” but instead of coding and developing algorithms in open space offices they work out in the open trying to tease tomatoes from the soil.

Welcome to the Hundredth Monkey Farm where aspiring farmers can benefit from the same type of coaching and shared resources that many high-tech startups get from business incubators or co-working.

The name pays homage to the hundredth monkey effect, the concept that an idea or behavior will spread rapidly once it is adopted by a critical mass.

This farm in Belberaud outside the southern French city of Toulouse is seeking to promote a “more sober, more durable” alternative to industrial farming, one that is adapted to small holdings.

And its “monkeys” aren’t necessarily born into farming.

Sacha Danjou, 25, is a former aeronautical engineer learning to manage a farm.

“Being a farmer, it’s a different world that touches on a lot of different areas: biology, management, accounting.” he said standing amongst rows of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other vegetables.

“When you are not part of it, it’s difficult” to get started, he added.

Here, for roughly 300 euros (US$340) per month, Danjou gets to test his hands with a parcel of 5,000 square meters that has access to water and electricity.

He also has access to farm machinery that all the aspiring farmers share.

The tractors and tillers alone cost around 40,000 euros. Adding that to the cost of land shows how setting up a farm is a costly endeavour.

“The risk is there when you start,” said Danjou.

“You buy, you have huge costs, you need to generate a certain amount of sales from the first year, you can’t make any mistakes,” he said as he worked the soil. “Without experience, it’s scary.”

Amandine Largeaud, one of the founders of the Hundredth Monkey Farm, calls their model “agricultural co-working.”

Co-working emerged a decade ago as an option for freelance employees and Internet startups, where renters share not only office space but form a community where they can share experience and expertise.

Largeaud acknowledged some might find it surprising applying the concept to the fields, but “it’s like office co-working, actually. We simply share the spaces and tools.”

In 2016, after several years in the solidarity economy, she joined up with 11 other people to launch the Hundredth Monkey Farm on a 19th century holding of five hectares.

Largeaud noted that as the French agricultural system is based on handing down land and skills through families, it is difficult for outsiders to break into the sector.

“When you want to get started you don’t realize how much paperwork there is and the different agencies that you need to deal with,” said Danjou. “You don’t learn that overnight.”

That is why the Hundredth Monkey Farm is also a business incubator, offering aspiring farmers training and coaching as well as some administrative and legal help.

Special Reports