“A 12th century start-up in 21st century style.” That’s how the nuns of Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Boulaur, in southwestern France, describe their “Grange 21” project. Around 30 nuns are currently working on building this sustainable and ecological microfarm around the abbey, located west of Toulouse. Their initiative is proving a hit on social media, as is their online fundraising, which launched last January.
The “Grange 21” project has smashed its €800,000 target on the Credofunding crowdfunding site. Behind this mysterious name lies a community of nuns who, since 1949, have been responsible for the upkeep and continual functioning of the magnificent Sainte-Marie de Boulaur Abbey in southwestern France.
This Cistercian monastery has a 45-hectare estate where 32 nuns — with an average age of 45 — work in the fields and on the farm to produce cheese, pâté, flour and jam using organic farming methods. An officially recognized national heritage site (“Monument Historique”), the convent also operates tourism activities with guided tours and a guesthouse for up to 40 people.
That’s how the nuns at Boulaur Abbey maintain this historical site while also providing for their own needs. Now, however, the sisters need to move up a gear to boost their income. “For many years we have wanted to build our own farm and dairy. We couldn’t do it sooner because it’s very close to a historical monument … We now need to make changes and take a new step that will allow the Abbaye de Boulaur and the community to live up to their full potential,” explains the Mother Abbess in the presentation video for the “Grange 21” project.
“Grange 21” aims to turn the nuns’ operation into a diversified small-scale farm with around 25 cows and a dozen pigs, in a bid to multiply by four or five each of the estate’s productions.
New production workshops, new equipment, new dairy and butchering facilities, and a new reception area with a shop and showroom … the list goes on. This vast female entrepreneurship project is based on a sustainable, ecological approach, integrating practices such as barn drying to limit the use of tractors, and a system for saving water, based on the principles of permaculture. Building materials such as stone, tile and wood will also be selected for their sustainable nature.
To fund the project, the nuns are combining multiple strategies, from partnerships with local enterprises and local people — including a participative workcamp — to online communications and crowdfunding via CredoFunding, a platform for supporting projects from the Christian community.
Thanks to the campaign, which has now closed, the nuns have received pledges topping €800,000. Extra funds will also be raised via a continuous donations campaign on HelloAsso.
Little by little, the new farm at Boulaur Abbey is taking shape, and will continue to do so provided that the nuns keep receiving adequate funds to proceed with the project. And progress is already being made — a January 16 post on the abbey’s official Instagram shows the farm’s cows in their new shed.