Our region – and the whole of southern France – is reinventing itself: innovative, courageous people are developing exciting ideas and thus enriching nature and culture. For example, Céline and Sébastien Dalonis with their small but impressive farm “Manjolive”.
It all started with Sébastien’s grandparents, who started planting asparagus in Sabran many decades ago. The small piece of land was later passed on in inheritance and thus divided up – into areas too small to continue cultivating. Or so they thought. Until Sébastien learned, while studying to be a teacher, that it takes very little land to grow saffron….
Céline: When you and your husband met in Arles and he then had the idea to grow saffron on a small piece of land in Sabran – did you agree straight away?
Yes – because we had planned to do so just for fun: for ourselves and our families. I myself grew up in Belgium, but my father is Spanish. Saffron plays a big role in this culture and therefore I immediately felt drawn to the idea.
When did you start?
It was around 2006, as I said, just as a hobby. It worked out very well from the beginning and was fun. A friend of ours knew a chef in the area and gave him some of our saffron to try. He loved it and still uses it for his signature dish, among other things. That was the start of the professionalisation: We were able to sell to more and more chefs, slowly grew and then started selling directly to private individuals.
Since then, you’ve started growing more than just saffron. How did that come about?
We learnt about spirulina from one of our neighbours, and were immediately interested: both in the cultivation and in the powers of these little algae. And what’s very important for us: this is another plant that needs very little land. At this stage, we dared to dream a bit bigger for the first time and started imagining a big farm with many different cultivations. And so, we bought a neighbouring vineyard. However, all the permits for the cultivation and processing of spirulina cost a lot of time and energy which is why we planted pomegranates instead of wine on the new piece of land. These are a lot less time-consuming than wine, and we are able to sell them for the first time this year.
Do you make all your own processed products?
Some of them we do. Others, such as our saffron macarons, are made by very good local producers. It is important to us that the processed products meet the regional and ecological standards we set with our produce.
What else is important to you?
Organic cultivation and biodiversity are absolutely central to us, we do not compromise on this, and could never imagine anything else. We not only consistently avoid pesticide, but we also try to actively contribute to biodiversity. For example, we don’t leave any soil bare between the pomegranate trees, and have other plants growing there as well.
That sounds like a lot of work – what does your year look like?
We harvest spirulina continuously between March and October, about four times a week. That is indeed a lot of work! We use a particularly gentle method for processing, by which we distinguish the quality of our product – this, in return, is required by the award-winning chefs we work with.
In autumn, we harvest the pomegranates and then, from the end of October, the saffron. Here we wait for the full moon, after which there are particularly productive flowers. They sprout during the night and open with the first rays of sunlight. Then we collect them and pull the saffron threads from them. This takes about three to four weeks. For one gram of saffron we need about 150-200 blossoms.
How do you work with Château de Montcaud?
We are honoured that chef Matthieu Hervé uses our saffron in his kitchen. Moreover, we are very happy to have neighbours who care about sustainability and regionality as much as we do. They are also bringing new ideas to the region, revitalising it alongside us and a few other innovative projects. It’s inspiring – we have a great neighbourhood!
What will happen next with Manjolive? What are your plans, what is your vision?
We are focusing more and more on spirulina, because this plant needs very few resources – especially little water. Unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly scarce in our region. We are already noticing this with saffron! Spirulina is also incredibly rich in nutrients, vitamins, minerals and proteins: A little miracle plant. It’s a great alternative for people who eat little or no animal products. We’re also launching a crowdfunding campaign in mid-October to have pomegranates shipped directly to your home within Europe. We’ll just keep trying and will continue to stay open and curious.
Can you visit Manjolive?
Of course you can! We are less than 10 minutes away from the Château de Montcaud! Just ask their concierge, he will contact us directly. We are always happy to give our visitors a little tour.
But you can also find out a lot on our website: www.manjolive.fr.
Photo credit: Julien Meisselle