Fanny Struelens received an award for setting up a fully organic market gardening initiative for adults with autism.
Fanny Struelens won the 2011 Terre de Femmes Award. She set up an organic farm for the autistic adults she cares for at the La Pradelle ESAT centre, in the town of Vauvert, Camargue. She patiently teaches these groups with inclusion difficulties how to plant, care for and harvest fruit and vegetables without using pesticides.
Where do you think your love of working the land comes from?
As a child, I spent every waking moment wandering around our family’s big garden, or in the Soignes forest near Brussels, where I grew up. I was never into Barbies; I’ve always preferred digging my hands into the soil. I can’t explain why. I just liked being out in the fresh air, growing fruit and vegetables with my father and sharing them with family and friends. I couldn’t imagine being stuck indoors in an office job.
I was never into Barbies; I’ve always preferred digging my hands into the soil.
Based on your experience, do you think farming is part of the therapeutic process?
Gardening is enormously reassuring for them. It provides them with a sense of structure. It gives them a sense of passing time, as the vegetables grow and change colour. If the tomatoes are green, it means it’s spring. If they’re red, it means it’s summer. Cabbage arrives in winter, and so on. The teamwork aspect is also very beneficial. It forces them to communicate with others and gets them out of their bubble. They’ve really progressed over time and acquired some useful skills. Every new harvest is synonymous with a job well done.
How has the Terre de Femmes Award helped you?
The Yves Rocher Foundation’s Terre de Femmes Award gave us the funds we needed to set up a new greenhouse. As a result, we’ve been able to double our yields and diversify our crops. We were also able to buy ergonomic tools better suited to our workers and, most importantly, a tractor. All the time we’re saving with our new tools means I have more time to give to our teams on the ground. I have more scope for supporting them. The Foundation’s support allowed us to increase our turnover by 60% and, more importantly, to provide extra support to these people who need specific, tailored working conditions.
The workers prepare 30 fruit and veg boxes per week, priced at €15. The produce is sold to individuals as well as local restaurants and canteens, all of whom love being able to source good, fresh, local ingredients.