A slice of Agricultural History

The air was fresh at 12 ºC and a gentle cool breeze was blowing, but the skies were clear blue and the warmth of the sun surprisingly strong for the time in the morning.

The Fête de la moisson was set to last most of the day and a large field near the edge of the village would accommodate both the fête and a car park. Noticeable by its absence was any attempt to squeeze money out of the visitors. Yes, there were stalls selling home made honey, olives, walnut oils and crafts made of wood or lace; but one of the most spectacular displays of sculptures made from scrap metal seemed to make no attempt to sell anything to anyone. The whole show was free, and reflected a pride in local French farming history.

There were old tractors, some in immaculate condition and some obviously in full working order, but mostly they seemed to act as props for excited children to climb and have their pictures taken. There were cutters, binders and old balers. Some of the equipment was belt driven, and I had seen similar items in agricultural shows in Britain, but there was also an awesome wooden baler that compressed straw using a series of levers and ratchets and was powered only by three men, all wearing what seemed to be the agricultural worker’s uniform of white shirt black hat and trousers with braces.

A number of events reflected the local importance of forestry. There were two man saws. One of these involved strapping a tree trunk on a frame so that it pointed up at an angle of 40º. One of the men climbed high up onto the log while his mate stood on the ground below. They then proceeded to cut the tree trunk along its length, and incidentally towards the feet of the man balanced on the log. A rather more conventional two man saw was available of anyone to try and a small queue developed as anyone from about five year upwards had a go at sawing off a slice of wood.

Next along a couple were cooking lardons. Their fires consisted of a two logs standing on end. The middle had been cut out, and a slot made near the bottom to allow air entry, then they set fire to the middle of the log. It would have burned for hours, and indeed did burn for three or four hours before being dowsed with water.

Running along the whole of one end of the field was an open sided tent with a long table running from end to end. There they served a hundred or more meals: all the same, four courses for 14€. We did not stay to eat, nor did I try to throw a bale of straw three metres up in the air, but I enjoyed the atmosphere, enjoyed the pride in country skills, in simple food and in local heritage. I enjoyed the pride that I felt in being part of it all. I may speak a different language, but I am a part of the same humanity and I share so many of the values shown at the show. I am proud to be European.

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