Members of his group question the need for a campus like Hectar when, they say, state-certified agricultural schools that already teach agricultural management and technology are gravely underfunded. The way to attract more people to agriculture, added Muret Béguin, is for consumers to “recognize and value the hard work that farmers are already doing”.
However, for people like Esther Hermouet, 31, from a family of winegrowers near Bordeaux, Hectar meets a need that other agricultural institutions do not offer.
That afternoon, Ms. Hermouet mingled with a diverse group of young students, including an unemployed audiovisual producer, a Muslim entrepreneur and a craft cider maker.
Mme Hermouet and her two siblings were on the verge of abandoning the vineyard run by their retired parents, fearing that the recovery would be more painful than it was worth. Some of their neighbors had already seen their children leave the vineyards for easier jobs that did not require getting up at dawn.
But she said her experience at Hectar had made her more optimistic about the viability of the vineyard, both commercially and from a lifestyle perspective. She learned about business arguments, carbon capture credits to help maximize profits, and soil management techniques to reduce climate change. It has been suggested to work smarter in fewer hours, for example using technology to identify only isolated vines in need of treatment.
“If my brother, sister and I are going to work the land, we want to have a decent life,” she said. “We want to find a new economic model and make the vineyard profitable, but also make it sustainable for the environment for decades to come.
For Mr. Niel, who made his fortune by disrupting the French telecoms market, being part of a movement to modernize France’s food supply is tantamount to taking a moon break.