Catfarm – an international meeting spot
No need to go far on holiday to live an international experience – go to Catfarm. It is a project run by people from all over the world, located on a hillside close to the village of Poussan, an hour bus ride from Montpellier. You meet Dutch, Germans, Brazilians, Canadians, English, who busily transform the place into a hub of artistic creation and ecological sustainability.
Ulysses Schuitemaker, a 34 year-old Dutchman, leads the project. He is not there at the moment, but on his boat transformed into a studio in Amsterdam. From distance he gives instructions on how to go on, via video call or voice messages. “I want to create playgrounds for a diversity of people coming from different cultures and places, with different interests. He calls it “creativity incubators”, a spot for people who find it hard to grow roots.
He himself travelled around the world: crossed the Moroccan desert on a horse, rode a motorcycle across Latin-America and fell in love with the Chilean city Valparaíso, where he lived several years.
Everyone wants to be part of something
Nevertheless he came back to Europe. “Endless travelling will not create much depth,” he says. “You stay a tourist your whole life.” He believes that places like the Catfarm give perspective to those who might also wish to make a community. “I feel deep inside everyone wants to be part of something.”
People at the Catfarm
In the absence of Ulysses, Aurélie Huet, a 27 years-old from France, is the reference person on the ground. Small, fragile and full of energy, she is one of a kind. She studied Media, Culture and Communication, focusing on alternative ways of living. She dropped her PhD to devote herself completely to the Catfarm: “Popular education reflects my values much better,” she says.
She became a member of the Catfarm association, and is now in charge of the volunteers and guests. One project she is preparing for summer, is an Erasmus+ program, where youngsters from divers European countries will come together to question common values through theatre and non-violent communication workshops.
I just like getting away from the UK as often as possible
For Tom, 38, from England, it is his seventh week at the Catfarm. “I just like getting away from the UK as often as possible, I’m not a big fan of the place,” he explains. Since his trip to Australia in 2007, he never stopped moving.
He considers himself an awful traveller, terribly unorganized: “I do it partly to prove that I can and most of the time I prove myself wrong. I’ve been robbed and almost mugged and excessively lost…”
Volunteering at the Catfarm has become a source of structure in his chaotic existence of an avid traveller: “A place like this has a certain amount of routine, even if it’s just the time when you wake up and the time you start work, and the time you finish work.”
The way it works
The deal is five hours of work per day, five days a week. The rest is your free time. Right now, volunteers are clearing the fields, cutting back bushes and shuffling earth to create a safe fireplace and stairs. In previous projects they transformed an old Peugeot car into a sleeping space and built an Indian Tipi, to be used as a guest-room.
Every Monday mornings a meeting is held to speak about eventual problems and to decide on the plan for the upcoming days; a board indicates who is on duty for cooking or washing up. Lukas, a 22 year-old German, is a big fan of the food: “Everyday it comes from different cultures, and everyday it’s delicious!” The contribution is 3,50 Euros per day and meals are always vegetarian or vegan.
There are many opportunities to participate at the Catfarm: Volunteering, internships or other – for example working as community leader during summer. It is also possible to simply stay a night in the Peugeot car or in a spacious tipi for 20 Euros, as Airbnb guest.
The Catfarm’s aims
The Catfarm has grand visions for the future. The main aim is to be 100% ecological – with solar panels, reducing water use, growing vegetables – and 100% financially sustainable, by expanding Erasmus programs or creating a co-working space for digital nomads. They also want to develop a tiny house community on another big field. “The whole project is not about making money” Ulysses concludes. “If we can make it run and be sure we can repair the necessary, it’s enough.”
Darkness falls on Catfarm, but no one thinks of sleeping yet. People still gather around a cup of tea, or a beer, and inside the hangar a playlist with songs from all over the world carries the international atmosphere into the night.
Alice Fiedler & Anna Subich