Xavier Morel, the market gardener of the Audomarois marsh

Portrait Xavier Morel Market gardener Audomarois marshes (5)Market garden and cauliflower
©Market gardeners and cauliflower|Claire Decraene

He is one of the heirs of a vegetable garden on the water, shaped centuries ago by decades of market gardeners. In Clairmarais, Xavier Morel perpetuates the tradition of vegetable growing in the Audomarois marshes. An exciting but demanding job.

tradeMarket gardener
Audomarois sinceALWAYS

My grandfather was already a farmer, Xavier says as he takes us to his fields. I joined the farm of my parents Régis and Françoise in 1989 and have been running it since 1997 with my brother Frédéric.

From father to son

“Clairmarais, Chemin du Grand Brouck.” No doubt about it, we are in the heart of the Audomarois marsh. “Brouck, Broucq, or Broucque, it means swamp!” smiles Xavier Morel. In this month of July, the cauliflower culture is in full swing. My grandfather was already a farmer,” says Xavier, taking us to his fields. I joined the farm of my parents Régis and Françoise in 1989 and I have been in charge since 1997 with my brother Frédéric.” Yet he had studied accounting. Why did he come back? “For the love of the land, even if it is a difficult profession that young people no longer want to do.”

Portrait Xavier Morel Market gardener Audomarois marsh (2)Market garden and cauliflower
©Market garden and cauliflower
An evolving profession

On Xavier’s land, a crane allows him to maintain the watergangs. Long gone are the days of the baguernette, the tool used to clear the marshes. The crops have become mechanized,” says Xavier. I saw my father loading the cauliflower boxes on his tray. In the past, we did everything by hand, even transplanting the plants one by one.” The plants are those of the famous cauliflowers that make the reputation of Saint-Omer. This is Xavier’s main crop along with celeriac. He also grows carrots and small vegetables. “You’re not going to put wheat in the swamp! He only wants cauliflower. It’s very organic, peaty soil. For sure, there’s no shortage of water!” For he is somewhat in control of his water, his watergangs being directly connected to the Aa Canal. “They’re kind of like mini Dutch polders.”

An extraordinary landscape

It is a postcard landscape, between sky and water. The strips of market gardening land, the lègres, are crossed by canals, the watergangs.
Cameos of greens of all shades extend as far as the eye can see. In the distance, the tower of the old mill of the farm of Zuidbrouck acquired by the Conservatoire du littoral. Dating from 1870, it is him who managed the waters formerly, king of the wet meadows. “Yes it is beautiful this corner, it is not the factory, it is not the city! Early in the morning, we sometimes see wild boars and deer passing by.” Xavier also likes to take his boat to hunt in the marsh. His escute, the traditional wooden boat, is still going strong in the Zieux, the waterway that runs through his land.

Cultivating cauliflower

The plants yield after two and a half months beautiful cauliflower with a very white heart. The work of harvesting begins early in the morning, in the cool. It is necessary to remove the leaves that protect the beautiful white apples. “And above all, fold them back well to protect the cauliflower from the sun, if it is not yet ready to be harvested”, Xavier explains. Then cut the cauliflower, remove the leaves and place it on the conveyor belt that takes them to the tractor trailer where they are immediately packaged. “We plant cauliflower from March until mid-July on average. And, we cut every three days from the end of May until October 15. “His production amounts to 150,000 heads/year. While he reserves it all for the SIPEMA cooperative, you’ll find many stalls selling marsh vegetables in Clairmarais and on the road to Saint-Omer.