Meet the farmer who found happiness in an ancestral way of life

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French farmer Jean-Bernard Huon has shunned modern techniques such as machinery and pesticides, choosing the manual subsistence farming methods once followed by his peasant ancestors.

Farmer Jean-Bernard Huon stands on his farm with a bail of hay on his back.Image source, Reuters

Reuters photographer Stephane Mahe spent seven days with Jean-Bernard and his partner Laurence in Riec-sur-Belon, a corner of southern Brittany on France's west coast, to capture scenes of their unique way of living.

Image source, Reuters

Jean-Bernard, 70, describes himself as a "happy outsider". He and Laurence milk eight cows by hand, grind flour and collect manure to fertilise the crops that feed his livestock. Jean-Bernard chooses to sell his pork, veal and butter directly to visitors to his farm rather than engage with large supermarkets.

Despite his produce being organic, he has even avoided the trend of selling at farmers' markets, where organic food is hugely popular.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Jean-Bernard puts the cap back on a barrel of cider, made using apples from the orchard.
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Laurence adds salt as she makes butter by hand.
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Jean-Bernard and Laurence use beets as animal feed.
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The pair enjoy homemade cider as they eat lunch.

Farm machinery revolutionised French agriculture after World War Two, but Jean-Bernard chose to continue using the traditional manual farming methods.

As the country modernised around him, he continued to plough fields with oxen and has no TV, internet, running hot water or a car.

Image source, Reuters

"I've always managed by myself - I've never been rich but what do I care?" Jean-Bernard told photographer Mahe.

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

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Jean-Bernard laughs with a friend who helps harvest beets.

He does not oppose modern farmers and their methods.

"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."

Image source, Reuters

Jean-Bernard has had to make some concessions to modernity as he has grown older, investing in two tractors to help with the heavy lifting of hay.

Image source, Reuters
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Jean-Bernard's great-grandparents were the first of his family to work on the farm - his family are pictured here in about 1910.

Jean-Bernard wants to donate his farm to a willing successor, rather than sell it. But he admits his traditional methods may not be adopted by the future owner.

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

Image source, Reuters
Image source, Reuters

Photos by Stephane Mahe.