Emily's poster


11 years ago we chose the Ariege. We were ready to start a family but weren’t satisfied with our urban lives. Two weeks of travelling / camping through the Pyrenees told us that we were doing the right thing, and we found the home we live in today, by luck, thanks to a friendly estate agent whose cousin’s wife’s brother-in-law’s uncle knew of a place that might be coming up for sale….

I grew up on the steep and rocky island of Madeira, and my husband’s huge passion is skiing so a mountain range was key (the key to what?). On the map we are almost equidistant from Justin’s family in London and mine in Madeira – I like this geographical balance, I also love being right inside Europe. This feels like an ancient hub of civilization – I was no longer looking in from the outside!

A few years living as hermits, plying the font of knowledge that is Monsieur V with endless questions (and coffee) as he came to look after his cows the first winter, we slowly started to learn about our environment. As soon as I could I was digging and sowing and planting, joyful to have my hands in the earth rather than inside a pot of garden centre compost. And of course the animals arrived bit by bit….1 dog, 6 piglets, 2nd dog, 2 cows, 2 goats in year one for starters. Four years in London working at an auction house as a Personal Assistant did not allow for animals, only the sardines I stood with on my daily commute on the train and tube (metro) to and from work.

At times ecstasy; living on the edge of a stunning wilderness, there were also the bouts of wild uncertainty. What the hell were we doing here? I say ‘we’ a lot even though this is meant to be an individual portrait, but when it comes to Emily at Las Laous, Boussenac, Ariege, the choices were made as a team.  On our own we might never have come, on our own the doubts might have won. Our team doubled in size when I had twins, and of course my world was rocked by this new status quo.

Today we are a middle-sized farm, exploiting about 100 hectares (extensively) with 40 head of mostly Galloway cattle (fattened on grass only/converting organic) and 150 black pigs. We process the meat from our animals in our workshop next to our house and sell at the Saint Girons market, some restaurants and one very lucky butcher’s shop. Raising animals, packaging the meat, selling it, plus all the administration equals one hell of a lot of work. And as much as I whinge about this and that, I am very satisfied to be working for myself, and actually I enjoy (most of) the daily and seasonal tasks. The juggling of all aspects of the business, whilst keeping a home and being an attentive parent to my children is a challenge I mostly relish, but it inevitably leads to feeling of failure in one or more areas that you know are being neglected.

At 40 years of age now, my body is less happy with my demands, and biting off more than we could chew has led at times to considerable strain and stress; which interestingly contradicts the why we came here. We’ve often considered the grass greener elsewhere for ease of work in a more temperate environment, but the main reason for staying is that it feels good, it feels real, and our children are probably freer here than they would be elsewhere. is diversity and tolerance in Massat; there is endless play and discovery in nature right on our doorstep. We are working together to make the farm more efficient, the pigs happier, the cows organic. We are actively trying to carve out time for the vegetable garden, the horses, the mountain escapades. It is such a privilege to live here, it would be a shame to neglect the dreams we had at the beginning.