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Oasis: cultivating social ties through gardening

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes - Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert
Access to employment

Since 2001, in the heart of Forez, in the Loire, a few kilometres from Saint Etienne, the association Oasis combines helping people find work with sustainable development, through organic market gardening and reed production. A fruitful and dynamic alliance…



“Oasis is a member of the Cocagne network, which includes 110 organic gardens involved in integration programs all over France,” explained Vincent Paret, Director of Oasis since 2007. The association has five full-time staff who manage a team of sixteen gardeners on “social integration” contracts. These men and women are long-term unemployed who are facing social difficulties. “We encourage them to develop their qualities and feel empowered. We provide support to get back into long-term employment,” said Vincent Paret.

Social inclusion in the Land of Cocagne

Oasis has three objectives: social integration, organic farming and distributing the organic produce it grows among its network of members. “We call them Consom’acteurs! (consum’actors) They purchase a basket containing 4 or 5 varieties of our vegetables. We distribute nearly 300 baskets every week.” This success is a sign of recognition for all the work achieved by the people employed in the gardens. The confidence shown by the members is a factor in their integration, “as are open days and visits by groups of school children, which place us at the heart of the community,” explained the Director.

In order to sustain this business, Vincent Paret decided to develop the production of reeds, which are used in ecological wastewater filtering. “In 2008, I set up the social integration enterprise, Oasure. We provide services for local authority wastewater treatment plants. Seven reed workers on integration programs take care of growing the reeds and planting them in reed beds.” Oasis and Oasure are separate organisations but share the same premises, which quickly became over-cramped.

An innovative collaboration

Thus it was that, at the end of 2009, the VINCI Foundation agreed to grant the association funds for the photovoltaic panels for the eco-exemplary building that the association wanted to build to house its two integration organisations. “After spending ten years in prefab cabins, we now have 300m² for reception, administration and classrooms for training in market gardening,” beamed the Director.

Together with this financial support, an atypical co-sponsorship arrangement was set up, led by Ludovic Demierre, HR director for Rhône-Alpes South at Vinci Construction France, in Villeurbanne and his colleague Gaëlle Burlot: “Within the framework of the partnership between VINCI Construction France and the ENISE, the Saint-Etienne School of Engineering, we provide support to a class of students each year. They do their work placements and final year work projects with our companies and are given special training by our employees,” explained Ludovic Demierre, “but we felt that this partnership lacked a social dimension in order to be complete and truly representative of our Group.”

So, the students were involved as project sponsors: they drew up the eco-building specifications to support the procedure within the Cocagne network, carried out the thermal studies and carbon balance for the building, as well as a market study on organic production in the region, developed tools to promote the sustainable development initiative as well as educational material on the eco-building. The future engineers also came to give presentations on working in the building trade to the gardeners on integration programs. “Everyone in the group made a valuable contribution. Ludovic and Gaëlle were very involved in the field and were very attentive,” added Vincent Paret.

Finally, to celebrate the success of this partnership, a day of “meeting and gardening” was organised to bring students, VINCI employees and everyone involved in the association together. “An extraordinary day,” recalled Ludovic Demierre. “For many of the students, this was the first time they had been involved, hands-on, in any social action. We hope we have sown the seed, and that it will bear fruit!” Here, the idea that sponsoring is like being a bridge takes on its full force.

August 2011 © Reporters d'Espoirs news agency

Reporters d'Espoirs news agency

VINCI Foundation works with Reporters d'Espoirs, a French news agency, to highlight and share the innovative social initiatives that it supports. The arrangement includes the writing of articles and exchange on topics that lead to solutions. Thus presented, the initiatives, validated using the criteria of the editorial charter of Reporters d'Espoirs, are intended to demonstrate their development and results.