Q: What if I’m allergic to cats/dogs/feathers/gluten/dairy products/sunflower seeds…?
A: We have two adorable cats – Thelma and Louis – but they’re not around much when we have visitors. We don’t have a dog. We have feather and non-feather pillows so just ask if you prefer one kind. If you have any sort of food allergy, then please tell us at least one week before the weekend and we will make sure there are alternatives in place.
Q: Can I bring my child with me?
A: Yes, if the child is over 10 years old and provided that the child does everything the adults do, including getting up at 07:45 to meditate at 08:00! There must be one parent per child. In time we would like to offer courses for families but this will require more organisation and we’re not ready yet.
Clothing and shoes
Q: What sort of clothing should I bring?
A: Between October and April, you’ll need warm clothing and waterproof clothing. Sometimes the work outside can be a bit muddy so you also need clothes that can you don’t mind getting dirty. Ideally you should bring rubber or plastic boots because the field can be very wet, especially in the morning. Between October and April, you will also feel much more comfortable if you have slippers for indoors.
Q: How much do your weekend courses cost?
A: Our courses are donations-based, which means we offer participants the opportunity to leave a donation at the end if they want someone else to benefit from a course with us. This concept is called Dāna, which means generosity, charity or alms in Sanskrit. The idea is simple: if you feel you’ve learnt something during your time with us, then you donate so that someone else can enjoy the same benefits. A donation of 50€ per person covers our basic costs (food, electricity, water, train ticket for our assistant); 100€ allows us to replace broken or worn out gardening tools and to pay website costs; with a donation of 150€ or more we are able to invest in better facilities for participants or in solar panels so that the electricity used during a course comes from renewable, local sources.
Q: Do you require a deposit to confirm a reservation?
A: Yes, we require a deposit of 50€ to confirm a reservation. This will be refunded to you upon arrival at the farm. However, if you cancel within two weeks of the start of a course, and we can’t find anyone to replace you, then we reserve the right to retain your deposit to cover our costs.
Q: Can I offer a weekend course to someone as a present and if so how much will it cost?
A: Yes, you can. You’ll need to send us 50€ to cover the deposit. This is non-refundable. After that it’s up to the participant if they’d like to leave a donation at the end of the weekend.
Q: Do I need to be vaccinated or be in possession of a negative test to visit The Big Raise?
A: As of 14 March 2022, in line with French government rules, we no longer have any Covid restrictions. However, if you exhibit symptoms in the days before your visit, please do not travel.
Q: I am a wheelchair user. Can I still participate in one of your weekends?
A: Yes, you can. We have a bedroom on the ground floor for anybody who can’t use the stairs. Some of the more physical activities outdoors would be difficult but there will always be a way to participate. The one thing we would say is that it might be better to do a course during the summer months as the front yard, the field and the garden can get quite wet and muddy from October to April.
Q: Can I bring my dog with me?
A: No, sorry. We have two slightly nutty cats who have no experience of living with dogs and who are consequently terrified of them. The arrival of your dog will make our cats disappear for days.
Q: Can you provide courses for groups?
A: Yes, we can, but we will charge for this service. The proceeds will go to l’Association de Permaculture du Perche (the Permaculture Association of the Perche), which we recently set up to promote permaculture in our region. Email us with your requirements and we’ll send you a quote.
Q: What sort of food do you cook at The Big Raise?
A: All meals will be vegan during the weekend. The only exception is at breakfast, where there may be some butter because Blanche eats it! We only use organic ingredients. Our fresh food is always seasonal and local. Indeed, it often comes from our own garden. If you have any sort of food allergy, then please tell us at least one week before the weekend and we will make sure there are alternatives in place. If you plan to bring your own food – for example if you’re a raw foodie – then it’s helpful to know so we don’t prepare too much food.
Q: Will there be wine or beer at meal times?
A: We will not provide alcohol during the weekend and we ask you not to bring alcohol.
Q: What sort of meditation do you teach at The Big Raise?
A: Our inspiration is Vipassana – concentration on the bodily sensations – which is the form of meditation that the Buddha taught. However, we actually teach Anapana, a form of meditation where you concentrate on the breath as it passes through your nose. Anapana is a stepping stone to Vipassana. If you do a ten-day Vipassana silent meditation course, you will spend the first three days practising Anapana.
Q: Are the meditation sessions guided and do you use mental images, mental mantras or music to help participants to concentrate?
A: There is some guidance before and during the meditation sessions, but, like the Buddha, we do not use mental images, mental mantras or music. This form of meditation is about you and your brain, nothing else.
Q: How long do the meditation sessions last?
A: The first meditation session will last about 30 minutes during which time you will be expected to sit cross legged with your eyes shut. If you need to change position during the meditation session, then please do so quietly and discretely so as not to disturb your neighbours. The subsequent meditations will last for 40-50 minutes. After each meditation session there will be a chance for people to share their experiences if they so wish.
Q: I have a back/elbow/knee/neck/hand problem etc. Can I participate in all sessions?
A: Probably not, no. Some workshop activities (digging, pushing wheelbarrows etc.) are more physical than others, so please tell us when you arrive if you are likely to have difficulty doing certain activities or gestures. There will always be less strenuous activities you can do.
Q: Can I have a single room or a double bed?
A: Everyone will sleep in twin rooms i.e. two people per room in separate beds. Some of the beds are doubles; some are singles. We recommend that you bring earplugs in case someone snores.
Q: Can I sleep outside in a tent?
A: Yes. From June to September we can offer you a place in a collective tent (or you can bring your own tent), a camping mattress, a pillow and a pillowcase. You’ll need to bring a sleeping bag.
Q: Do I need to bring a duvet, a pillow, sheets or a towel?
A: We’ll provide duvets, pillows and sheets. Please bring your own towel. BUT if you want to be really environmentally friendly, you can bring your own sheets or a sheet sleeping bag. Please don’t bring normal sleeping bags for use in the house.
Q: Can I sleep at a hotel or in an Airbnb or similar?
A: No, because it changes the group feel of the weekend. And you run the risk of being late for meditation in the morning!
Q: Can I smoke at The Big Raise?
A: We don’t favour giving money to Big Tobacco (or indeed any big capitalist companies) so we don’t encourage smoking at The Big Raise. If you feel you have to smoke, then please do it discretely outdoors during breaks and take your cigarette butts home with you.
Q: How technical are the permaculture theoretical sessions?
A: We offer introductions to permaculture and not highly technical courses. We want to welcome people who are at the beginning of their transition. But it’s also important to point out that permaculture is as much about your shopping choices, your electricity supplier, the contents of your bin, the bank you use, your modes of transport, your relations with other people or with animals, the calmness of your brain – in other words your political choices and your personal psychological work – as it is about the chemical structure of the soil or how to construct a Hugelkultur (raised bed with decomposing wood in it). That said, we are working on a series of technical handouts for those who would like more detailed information.
Q: What’s the nearest station to The Big Raise (La Grande Raisandière in French)?
A: La Ferté-Bernard is the nearest station. The line is Paris Montparnasse-Le Mans. There is a train roughly every two hours. They leave from platforms 18-22 at Montparnasse.
Q: How much does the train cost?
A: The cost is €56.80 return or less if you have some sort of railcard. If you think you might visit us more than once in a 12-month period, then we recommend a Mezzo card, which is issued by the Pays de la Loire region. This reduces the price for a one way trip to €14.50. This ticket is valid for any train on the day of travel.
Q: Is there a buffet car on the train?
A: Alas, no!
Q: How can I get from La Ferté-Bernard train station to The Big Raise?
A: If you tell us that you are travelling on the 18:06 train from Paris Montparnasse on the Friday night, which arrives at La Ferté-Bernard at 19:55, or the 19:40 from Le Mans, which arrives at 20:04, then we will book you a place in a taxi, which will cost 20€ divided by the number of passengers.
Q: Can I travel from La Ferté Bernard and The Big Raise by bicycle?
A: Yes, we do it all the time. It takes 25-30 mins to get up to the farm and 15 minutes to get back to the station! Don’t worry, the vertical climb is only 68m!
Q: Can I come by car?
A: We encourage participants to come by train because public transport creates less pollution than cars. However, you’re welcome to come by electric car and you can charge it at the farm!