Farmer rejects modern technology in pursuit of happiness

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French farmer rejects new technology
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French farmer rejects new technology
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, ploughs his land with oxen near his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Light shines through a window of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon's farmhouse in Riec-sur-Belon, France, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon reads a book in his room at his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Laurence, companion of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, unloads manure on land near their farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Bikers gather in a field during the annual biker rally at the farm of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon in Riec-sur-Belon, France, January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, toasts with bikers during the annual biker rally at his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, walks with his oxen on his land near his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Geese walk by as Laurence, campanion of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, works at their farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Farming equipment lies on the ground near the farm of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, and his companion Laurence harvest beets on their land near their farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Laurence, companion of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, works on land near their farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, works at his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
A dark sky hangs over a field near the farm of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon in Riec-sur-Belon, France, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
An old yoke hangs on a wall in the farm of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, shaves in the bathroom of his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, cuts bread during lunch at his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, writes notes beside his companion Laurence, at their farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Laurence, companion of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, prepares butter at their farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, and his companion Laurence have lunch at their farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Items are dispayed on a windowsill at the farm of French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, and his friend Jeremy harvest beets on land near his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, looks on as he works on his land near his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon, 70, inspects a barrel used for cider at his farm in Riec-sur-Belon, France, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
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When farm machinery revolutionized French agriculture in the years after World War Two, a young Jean-Bernard Huon turned his back on the new technology.

Half a century later, in a corner of southern Brittany on France's west coast, Huon still uses oxen to plow his fields, determined to preserve an ancestral, peasant way of life.

On the small farm where he grew up, the garrulous, white-bearded 70-year-old and his partner Laurence milk eight cows by hand, grind flour manually and tirelessly collect manure to fertilize the crops that feed his livestock.

Huon's manual approach to subsistence farming makes him a rarity in the European Union's biggest agricultural economy. He shuns France's hypermarkets, instead selling his pork, veal and butter to those who visit his ramshackle farm in Riec-sur-Belon.

"I'm a happy outsider," Huon said on the farm where he lives without hot water. "I've always managed by myself, I've never been rich but what do I care?"

"Farmers today have a lot more land and animals than me, but they're not necessarily happier. They face a lot of constraints."

In the last decade, he's made some concessions to comfort. He switched from work horses to oxen that are more docile. More recently, as age imposes its own limits on his activities, he invested in two tractors for the heavy-lifting of hay.

His earthy existence resonates at a time when intensive farming is increasingly criticised and local, organic food supply is in vogue.

While his production is effectively organic, he refuses to use the label to market his goods and has eschewed distribution trends like farmers' markets.

Nor will he criticise farmers who embrace modern-day machines and chemicals, including those who use the weedkiller glyphosate, the subject of intense debate in Europe over its potential health risks.

"People criticise and it's good to criticise, but you have to know why it came about. Chemicals were a liberation for farmers. Can you imagine? You apply some glyphosate and you don't have any more weeds. Otherwise you have to do it with the hoe."

Huon hopes to find a successor to preserve the traditional spirit of the farm, which he plans to donate rather than sell. Nonetheless, he recognises that whoever follows will have to make changes as regulatory pressures become ever tougher.

"I lived in a time when you could set up easily, you just had to have some land and you could produce," he said.

 

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