Ancient orchards in the Pyrenean foothills have come back to life with the help of Renova, an association that revitalises plantations and helps people learn to prune trees, harvest and process their produce. Fruit growing in the area benefits from the climate-moderating effects of nearby mountains, meaning locals traditionally kept their harvests in an edible condition through into spring, a significant economic and dietary benefit. Commercial plantations begun in the 1950s caused the local fruit economy to collapse and orchards to be abandoned. The area’s sloping hills and variable soils prevented the widespread practice of conventional farming, leaving the orchards undisturbed until a revival of local interest in the 1990s. The result is a wealth of local fruit tree varieties that still remains.
Renova, which operates in both the Ariege and Haute Garonne departments of southwest France, hosts regular trainings in tree husbandry and propagation. It runs open days for schoolchildren and students and works with marginalised members of society. Its collective fruit-and-vegetable processing centre is available both to small-scale farmers and private individuals, saving them the costs of major capital outlay. It also carries a library and inventories of local varieties, examples of which its members propagate at various nursery sites across the two departments. Centre director Francis Michaux says Renova has revitalised 10,000 or so old trees in its time, planted another 10,000 and involved 1,000 people in that work.
(Interviewee: Francis Michaux, Interviewer: Patrick Chalmers, Camera operator: Natacha Yellachich)