Saturday, May 21

From the pope’s encyclical to carrots, a priest who became a market gardener in France

He swapped the stoup and the brush for the shovel and the spade: a French priest, Father Jean-Marie Lioult, left his parish of Dreux, near Paris, to embark on market gardening with the desire to “take care of the living”, planet as well as human beings.

In this seven-hectare field, nothing yet stops the wind which sweeps the immense plain of Beauce. But, in a few years, Tremblay-les-Villages, about a hundred kilometers west of the capital, will host a market gardening operation and an edible forest.

Cap screwed on the head and Roman collar under the jacket, the one who has been a priest for thirty years comes alive as soon as he evokes “market gardening in living soil” (close to permaculture), “the incredible richness of Creation” , earthworms and plant biology.

These blue eyes sparkle when he details his project, divided into four spaces. First there will be an experimental garden and its edible forest, in collaboration with an agricultural high school in the region in Châteaudun.

A “local garden” will be operated by volunteers for the benefit of Restos du Coeur, a charity distributing meals to disadvantaged people, and Relais Logement, a home for young adults. One hectare will be made available to a young market gardener to embark on the profession. Finally, an integration project could train around ten people.

“I have always been sensitive to agriculture. I studied agriculture before entering the seminary”, launches the man of the church wearing rubber boots.

While a dozen volunteers are planting trees, the priest recounts his awareness, triggered in particular by the documentary “Tomorrow” by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent in 2016.

Then the Covid-19 arrived. While France was confined in the spring of 2020, the priest “reworked” the “Laudato Si” of Pope Francis I. The encyclical released in 2015 calls for an “ecological conversion” and denounces the exploitation of people and nature.

“Really, I said to myself: we must not sit idly by. We must create something in the direction of ecological transition, to take care of the living,” he recalls between two bursts of wind.

“We are really damaging our planet and people too. Integral ecology is taking care of all living things”, he justifies.

-“The Beauty of Creation”-

Helped by a group of a dozen people, supported by a few neighboring farmers, supported by patrons and local communities, the father brought his project to fruition: 2,500 trees have been growing since September 2021.

“Excited”, Patricia Loyer was one of the first to get involved.

“It’s about new ways of cultivating, of integration,” she enthuses. “When I was a dentist, I liked to treat globally. And there, it’s a global project, which speaks of ecology, of respect for people, for the Earth.”

“Today, I showed how we planted trees to those who were there”, smiles the Drouaise grandmother, who also hopes to show another image of the church.

Other gardeners do not have this intention.

If he came for the “social” side of the project, Bertrand Jallerat also finds a professional interest in it. Especially in the forest, which will eventually host 300 edible species.

“It’s doubly exciting because it can also be a research center for our gourmet restaurant,” says the owner of a starred hotel-restaurant in Chartres.

“Finding new tastes, new products, all this in a more than organic way (…), for us it’s exciting”, appreciates the manager, who came to plant with a dozen employees.

If the hotelier does not hope to offer new flavors for a few years, the time that the forest grows, the production of vegetables, it should start in 2022.

Thanks to funding from France Relance, Jean-Marie Lioult will indeed be able to install greenhouses in the spring.

“It is part of our faith to work for the beauty of Creation, to create biodiversity here and to allow people to be happy there”, savors the gardener priest. “Eating good vegetables and being healthier is precious.”

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