#BackToEarth interview with Emmanuelle Coratti

The bonus episode number 6 is with Emmanuelle Coratti! She isn’t a farmer but she recently quit her high level job and founded #BackToEarth to move to the countryside and connect farmers, “neo-rurals”, artists, entrepreneurs and many other actors. Find here some “best-offs” of what she said, the inteview in podcast form and the whole transcript of the interview below. Enjoy and get inspired!

Best-offs from Emmanuelle Coratti

But what’s the point having great diplomas, having a wonderful job when you are just not able to live on your own in the nature. And that you’re completely split from what is the heart of what we should be focused on – which is the earth.

I don’t want to be ashamed in front of my children. I don’t want to tell them, “You know what? Your mother, she knew, and she did not do anything”.

And yeah, it was a surprise to me to see how many new farmers are women. It used to be a very men job and now I see many, many women becoming farmers. It’s a good topic of research. There is something.

When you have a project to go back to the countryside there needs to be a connection between your personal project, your professional project and the territory project. And if the three are okay together it works. You need to have a balance.

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Transcript of the Interview with Emmanuelle Coratti from #BackToEarth

Naomi: So you started your new project, I think this year, right? Where did the motivation come from to start it?

Emmanuelle: Yep. I used to be a CSR director in a listed company. So that was for the 10 past years. So I was working towards sustainable management, but I felt that it was not useful enough, you know, and that we’re in a system that’s not working anymore. And I had some weeks to think about what I wanted to do in my second, let’s say “professional life”. I saw some movies and I read a lot of articles about what we could call a “collapse”. And I was really, really afraid about that and I felt that my job, as sustainable director, was not impactful enough and I tried to change some things in my life. So I sold my apartment in Lyon, the city where I currently live, but in a house that I rent now and I bought a house in the countryside in order to become more resilient as a city inhabitant. There are many things that I do not know; I don’t know how to raise vegetables. I don’t know how to repair or fix things. And for me, it was really, I don’t know… It became like an evidence like obvious that I had to change things. I did great studies in France in a big school of management, which is called HEC. So it’s wonderful,

but what’s the point having great diplomas, having a wonderful job when you are just not able to live on your own in the nature. And that you’re completely split from what is the heart of what we should be focused on – which is the earth.

I bought my house, my little house, close to a river. I have a water source on my field and I intend to change things in my life, so that in, let’s say five to 10 years, I’m able to live on my own there and raise my kids in an environment which is closer to nature. So that was my personal switch, but it came to a professional switch too as I discovered while preparing my project, that there are many, many initiatives everywhere in the countryside namely in France – the country I come from – and not only about agriculture, but also entrepreneurs, villagers, associations, artists; many, many initiatives everywhere in the country, but that are not connected, not known by the by the citizens. And I felt it was really a big loss not to know about all that and not connecting all those initiatives. And I came to the idea that there was something to do about publishing things about these initiatives and connecting them. And I came to the idea of #BackToEarth, which is now a nongovernmental organization whose aim is to promote and to connect initiatives related to giving more space to agriculture and farmers, promoting neo rurality and also promoting the fact that we should connect our society and our economy more to the nature,

because on the one hand, you have an economical system that’s looking for growth and on the other hand, you have the natural system, which is slowly going down, and there is simply no connection anymore between the economical system and the reality of what our nature is.

So we founded this association in order to promote these initiatives. We have a small YouTube channel and short movies about farmers, associations, villages, artists that invent another way of living, another way of producing, another way of being connected to the nature. We started that less than two months ago. We also launched a club connecting neo rurarls to citizens from the city, that intend to change their lives so they ca talk together and help each other in their switch of life. So it was yesterday that we had the first meeting and we are also going to launch events gathering people from different universities, like researcher, there are mayors from the countryside, farmers, associations, artists, and entrepreneurs, so that we connect them to each other, and that they exchange about the projects and innovate together. I am really convinced about the urge of having some collective intelligence about that, and that it needs to be built and animated. So that’s the aim of our associations. At the start the project was to do it aside my job and when I started that project, I could not think about something else. And so I quit my big job, my big position – I was almost in the executive committee of a big company and I quit this summer to devote myself to the association. I have some big, let’s say question marks about how I’m going to live from that. But as I felt really worried about the state of our planet or our society, I decided to commit myself to that and let’s see after how I’m going to make it a full time job, but that’s the point where I am now. So it’s just completely new to me and that’s the first time of my life I’m an entrepreneur. Now we are writing a big manifesto about going back to earth and we wrote that article with other associations, researchers, mayors and friends, and we have big, big names who signed it; so we also want to have the political action. So that’s it.

Naomi: Great. We will talk about neo rurarls later and you moving to the countryside, but first back to your organisation. Most members are women. How come?

Emmanuelle: Good question. And you know what, yesterday, when we launched our club we were supposed to be 10 members. And as usual, you have people who cannot connect, et cetera. And in the end we were seven and we’ were only women and the men couldn’t make it. And so we said, “yeah, that’s funny that we’re only women”. I also discovered – but I was not aware of that – that the first people I had in my movies and my small videos, they were many women. So that’s interesting,

my little explanation about that is that this connection to nature and the fact that we are really worried about the state of the planet and the resilience of our society, of families is also connected to – to my mind – to very feminine characteristics, maybe connected to the role of mothers that we have

, even if some young women also commit themselves without being mothers. I think it’s connected to motherhood and the fact that, maybe we have in our mind the urgency to feed, to protect, to be gentle, to connect. For me, it has something to do with the very feminine side of it.

Emmanuelle: Oh that’s my small boy who’s here. Hello. You want to say hello? He doesn’t speak English…

If I come back to my project and my personal switch to the countryside, there was something really connected to the fact to protect my children. If I go really inside myself to think about that, there was something really basic. There are many reasons why I do that. Many, many reasons, but, if I come back to the roots, as far as I’m concerned, it has to do with the fact that I’m a mother. Same thing with my different commitments. I am really committed in my life. I’ve always been. One of the reasons is that

I don’t want to be ashamed in front of my children. I don’t want to tell them, “You know what? Your mother, she knew, and she did not do anything”.

And she continued to go back to shops and whatever, everything that is now in this society, as it is now organized. I’m trying to dis construct what they’ve learned from the very beginning of the lives and they’re 13 and nine. And even if I raised them in a certain way, you know, they live in the society like other children, and it’s really, really, really difficult to raise children in a world like ours and being resistant to the system. It’s really, really difficult. For me it’s a basic explanation to the fact that women feel concerned about that.

And yeah, it was a surprise to me to see how many new farmers are women. It used to be a very men job and now I see many, many women becoming farmers. It’s a good topic of research. There is something.

Naomi: Could you briefly explain the concept of “neo rurarls” and say if you identify as one or not.

Emmanuelle: I’m a half neo rural as I still live in a city, I have a one foot in the city and another on the countryside. I don’t know if we can speak about one type of neo rural, but if I should give a definition: It’s a person who spent most of its life in the city and decided to move to the countryside for different reasons, it can be for quality of life only, it can be to work there, it can be also to become farmer. I mean, there are different scales. There are different reasons to that switch to the countryside. I had a small talk with a sociologist who studied this question in France. I don’t know if it’s the same in other countries, but this phenomenon is not new. It started first in the seventies with some small communities or people who went to the countryside in order to be against the system. But it was really a small part of the population and they were working on alternatives and then

the rural Exodus slowly came down and now it looks like there is a new phenomenon of urban Exodus, which is starting slowly.

Not everywhere. There are still some sites in the country, in France, namely that are dying of having no inhabitants and no living, but there are some regions now who slowly get repopulated with some urbaners that leave the cities and go back to the country. There are different types of neo rurarls. People who live there full time, but there are also bi – residentials who live, let’s say 70% of their times in the countryside and go back to cities one or two days in the week for meetings, et cetera. As a general we can say that something new is starting. I had a small interview for my YouTube channel with a woman who is a farmer and also an author. She used to study political science. So she’s a smart woman and she’s an activist and she’s just published a manifesto for urban Exodus in France. She had a very large media cover and she wrote this book before Covid, she had finished it and she was supposed to publish it, let’s say in March and then Covid crisis came. So she completely changed her manifesto and she had a media cover that was completely unexpected, like TV, many newspapers interviewed her because looks like there’s something happening in France. Many people decided to move to the countryside during Covid crisis and looks like it raised awareness about that and many people decided to buy houses in the countryside in villages that were almost dead. We don’t know if it’s going to last or if it’s just connected to Covid crisis, but this has become a new phenomenon.

Naomi: Do you think this urban exodus is trendy right now because of Covid or do you think it’s more sustainable?

Emmanuelle: It’s more sustainable. The fact is that of course there are some people who make a switch in their lives, but do not realize everything that it involves. And there are also some people who do not succeed in their switch, namely, when it’s to become farmer, because it’s something more involving and many do not have the abilities to do that or are not trained enough or do not realize what it involves. And there are many projects that are stopped, but there are also many, many,

many new projects coming up as you say “small farms”, which are also more sustainable than big farms if they are well run. I saw some projects that just started like one year ago and that are already bankable.

So I would separate farmers and neo rurarls as a general, because I think those are two different things. I mean new farmers are included in neo rurals, but not every neo rural is a farmer, that’s a specific category. I said that for this category of new farmers, of course, some projects to do not succeed, but of course the trend is emphasized by COVID crisis. And maybe it will slow down after; that’s a possibility, but I am convinced that it’s going to be a long term trend because cities are not good to live anymore. It’s harder and harder. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I’m quite sure it’s going to be a sustainable phenomenon.

Naomi: Coming back to the difference between “neo rural farmers” and “born farmers”. Did you notice any conflict? Do they socially engage well, or are there some clashes? And is your organization perceived in different ways by the different types of farmers?

Emmanuelle: I’d say that there is no general answer to that. It’s always specific. First I thought that it would be really problematic for a new farmer to come and launch a farm and come to a territory where it is not from. But when I interviewed some farmers, I discovered that there were really welcomed by the local population, as far as the people I met are concerned, but I read some books and articles, and I had also interviewed a sociologist and researchers on the point, that there are some conflicts in some cases between born farmers or born rurals and new farmers and new rurals.

It depends on the territories. It depends on the people. It depends on the projects. It looks like people who try to be constructive and connected with the local project are more successful than people who come and just launch their project without being connected.

It depends also on the territories maybe because there are some territories where there are many, many projects and they are fed up with having some new ones and in some other countryside, they’re so happy to welcome new rurarls. I don’t know if you saw the small video I launched about “Hacker un village”, it’s a small village who launched an operation to ask people to come to them and repopulate the village. So it depends on the villages and the areas and what is also sometimes difficult is to have two worlds in the agriculture. I don’t like to have big categories, but sometimes it’s easy to explain things. So you have some big farms that are connected with the European policy of agriculture (PAC – “Politique Agricole Commune”) that are like industry finally and some small farms that are more connected to nature, to organic production, permaculture and so on. There are many, many trends connected to that and

these two words live in the same time and sometimes fight each other because they do not have the same interests. And there can be some tensions.

For instance, I can give you an example. I interviewed a group of young people who are currently settling in the area of Nantes and they are five to retake a farm that was abandoned. There are many tensions about getting the fields, that the big farmers that were aside when they bought the farm, they poisoned it with some glyphosate and so on, because there is a kind of fight about fields.

Because if you speak about the big farms in Europe, the system is built in such a way that you need to be bigger and bigger if you want to meet the criteria to get some financial help.

So there’s a kind of tension about fields and the new farmers that are more about small fields and it’s difficult to get small field and the old farmers (if I should make some categories) want to get more square meters for their production and it’s really tense. So there are some times where it’s okay and some times where it’s not. If I should come back to this project of these five neo rurals who took this farm; they have complimentary knowledge and so they’re going to launch a market on the farm. They’re really welcomed by the population – not the farmers aside – but the population was really happy to see them giving life again to this farm and selling the products directly on the farm. So it depends, it’s case by case. And yeah, that’s good.

Naomi: Ah it’s good to know that there’s not a trend, that every urban person is not welcomed by every rural inhabitant, but it’s rather case by case!

Emmanuelle: Yeah and you know, I was part of a conference call and talking about countryside projects. And someone said something I found really adequate, which is the fact that

when you have a project to go back to the countryside there needs to be a connection between your personal project, your professional project and the territory project. And if the three are okay together it works. You need to have a balance.

Naomi: I heard that in France, when a farmer retires, for example, and wants to sell her/his land, there is a law that this land needs to be proposed to young people or new farmers. Is that true?

Emmanuelle: I’m not a specialist of it, but what I know is that you cannot sell to the one you want. There is an institution called Safer who distributes the land and you can not sell your land to the one you want. It’s not like houses or apartments. New farmers are supposed to be helped, but there are some lobbies and some pressure. So it’s not that easy. New farmers are supposed to get financial help or to be favoured when attributing the land. But in reality, as usual, you can have some pressure and lobbies that do not help that redistribution and it’s kind of complicated, but I’m not a specialist. I know that is a big question. You have some associations who are really specialized on that and you can go and see “Terre de liens” – I’m part of it. I invested my small money, because I’s not rich but I’ve I saved some money and you can invest in lands so that they go to a new farmers. But that’s a nongovernmental organization.

Naomi: With #BackToEarth you want to show that projects already exist and you want to build a world to which you aspire – how does this world look like? And what is the role of women in it?

Emmanuelle: The world will be more connected to nature. More simple, let’s say with less consumption. More relationships, when you’re living in the city, you have simply no connections with your neighbourhood, which is a pity. More connections between generations.

More feeling of what being alive means and trying to be really alive, not only living, but to live a life fully.

I feel like there’s a kind of vacuum in the urban lives. Also, but that’s my personal point of view, I feel that spirituality is also something that is important to connect with – having some inner life. So I like to have a world that is more connected to what it means to be alive and the joy of simply being. Not only acting and consuming. So that’s my ideal way of seeing things. Of course women have a role to play in that thanks to their sensitiveness and the fact that there is something that’s part of women, which is to protect to heal, to feed… I’m not going to be politically correct, but I think that we wanted so much so much to have equality, that there was a kind of confusion and women tried to become almost like men. And to me, if there are men and women, there’s a reason why and I’m for equality, to the fact that we have the same rights, but I am also convinced that differences are really key and that women need to be women. I don’t want to make big categories, but that’s the topic of your study.

I’m proud to be a woman really, but I wouldn’t define myself as feminist, for instance, I don’t recognize myself in the political movement of feminism, because to me some women simply try to be men.

And I do not recognize myself in it, but I assume that. So definitely, being a woman is important. Before I launched back to earth, I launched a small club with some incredible women I met in my life; but in my daily life, some are friends, some are colleagues, some are women I met during conference – these are really inspiring women to me. And I launched a small club, which is called des elles et des elles. It is like “she” and “wings”. We meet every, let’s say two months to have conversations about our lives and it’s really intimate and it’s really inspiring to be connected with other women. Yes, definitely, I feel that there is some specific role to play and that a new time for women as come. I’m quite convinced about that. I like men a lot. I’m in love with a man and I would not like to be with a woman, but (and he’s a wonderful man) yeah, I think that we have something to bring. I don’t know if we can speak about being wise, but it has something to do with that.

Naomi: I appreciate your way of seeing a good future and that you’re working on getting there!

Emmanuelle: What? Sorry, it’s my son who is in front of me. Yes. C’est quoi le problème? [inaudible exchange in French]

It’s difficult to be a woman. Working and a woman and having kids. Yeah. You need to be yeah…

I was talking about the title of #BackToEarth and many French people do not like English titles in the old generations, namely. There was no international purpose in it, but why not? But it came to me like the #BackToEarth title, because you can be connected to other countries. And I think that this is really nice to see that same phenomena happen in other countries – maybe in a different way. So it’s not part of the project now because I have many, many things to announce but it would be really interesting for the Congress that we want to organize, if you have come to the end of your project to have like an international round table and have some inputs from other countries.

Naomi: Yeah. I think there are a lot of things that are different in the distinctive countries where we can learn from each other many similarities that you don’t think about.

Emmanuelle: It’s becoming crazy in the kitchen. So I think that we almost come to the end of our interview now.

Naomi: Yeah great. Thanks a lot!

Emmanuelle: You’re welcome. And my congratulations to your project.

Naomi: Yeah you too! Thanks a lot for taking time to be here and have a good goûter with your family.

Emmanuelle: Yeah. Thank you!