Melifera, a brand committed to biodiversity
Meeting with Ethel Gauthier, responsible for biodiversity and sustainability at Melifera.
Of course you know Melifera! An 100% French premium bio gin, distilled with immortelle flowers. More than a gin, it is a committed brand representing Christophe Amigorena’s values and actions. As of right now, Melifera has decided to deepen its commitments for sustainability in multiple ways. Firstly, by acquiring the expertise of Ethel Gautier, now in charge of the sustainability sector. Secondly, by creating Melifera’s Brand Space at the heart of the Island of Oleron for which Ethel will be responsible. These actions, for us are big steps in favor of the protection of biodiversity and Melifera’s constantly growing engagement towards this cause.
Tell us more about your meeting with Christophe Amigorena, one of Melifera’s creators.
I met Christophe and discovered Melifera while working for Oleron’s Community of Communes. He presented his project of a bio Gin, made from immortelle flowers that he wanted to quickly link to the territory. He wanted to meet local farmers and get more acquainted with possible challenges, which is where I came in.
I must admit that at first glance, I thought this project to be a bit wild, or at least completely new for me but I immediately fell in love with the sincerity Christophe shared in his engagements and the vision he had for the development of his brand in Oleron. Not only was he receptive to the challenges that came with the protection of biodiversity, like the preservation of the black bee, agroforestry, or agroecology, but he also proved to be very proactive.
Recruiting someone to oversee sustainability and biodiversity is a strong message from Melifera, that shows once again the will to go one step further in its engagements. What do you like about this adventure?
Of course, I quickly felt that in Christophe’s approach, there was a true desire to develop his brand and project in agreement with his values. It was not a one-time speech but a perfect match and concordance between his promises and his actions. Once again, I appreciate his wish to blend in and work with the territory, develop partnerships with local actors and vouch for sustainability. Alongside Christophe and his wife Cécile, I will be able to make use of my experience by combining advice and strategy with the practical implementation of their commitments. More than that, I will be able to work with aromatic and medicinal plants, which I am very passionate about.
As an agricultural engineer with a specialization in environmental issues related to agriculture and food, you have nearly 20 years of experience serving producers and local communities. This is a real asset for Melifera!
Indeed, I have acquired a fairly general profile in terms of knowledge and skills on environmental issues and agroeconomics throughout my professional career. First in the Overseas Territories, then in Paris and finally in the Island of Oleron. Coming from a farming family in Charente, I have been living on the island for 7 years so I know the territory and its actors well. From farmers to collectivities, to diverse associations and local organizations. Additionally, I have valuable agricultural technical knowledge and an approach to biodiversity that is completely integrated in my agricultural approach.
I am aware about interactions between human activities and ecological systems, how to ensure that these, while lasting economically, promote sustainable management of natural resources (water, soil, biodiversity, etc.) and how to promote their cohabitation.
What is your role within Melifera?
From a global point of view, my role consists of the concrete implementation of Melifera’s commitments in the territory, in close collaboration with Cécile and Christophe. A role that will be fully expressed within a new Brand Space in the Ile d’Oleron. The first part of my mission consists of setting up this space, managing crops and maintaining them. The second part focuses on developing relationships and partnerships with local stakeholders (farmers, service providers, organizations, local associations, etc.).
The project is a space for agricultural production, a showcase of specific know-how, and accessible on a punctual and spaced-out basis. In this context, the characteristics of the place could also be highlighted to understand the gradual transition between an agrarian anthropogenic landscape and a natural, humid landscape during targeted educational and awareness-raising actions.
A Melifera space is a scoop, no?
Yes! Even though Cécile and Christophe had previously mentioned the birth of this local project, we still had not disclosed anything yet! You should know that this Oleron site, called “Le jardin Melifera” or the “Melifera garden”, will have multiple goals. To be both a production and cultivation site, a showcase for the brand, a welcoming place for customers and journalists, and a display of Melifera’s commitments.
You mentioned a production and cultivation site: could you tell us more?
We will try and plant whatever is suitable for Oleron by combining what goes into the production of Melifera’s products and what plays an important role for biodiversity.
In the first case, it is of course the immortelle flower, already produced exclusively on the island for the creation of our organic gin, but of which we are going to increase the volume. It also includes other botanicals such as juniper, maceron, mugwort, wormwood, angelica, … In the second case, there are the honey plants – essential for wild pollinators in general and for bees (black in particular) – plants that are already found in the wild such as the marshmallow plant or comfrey, for example, which we will make liquid manure or juice to treat naturally if need. A real booster of natural defenses. The aim is to become as independent as possible.
How do the partnerships with local actors fit in the project?
The important goal for Melifera is to create relationships with local actors, who have their own farms, their own projects, and to participate in local development. It is about creating a relationship of exchanges and partnerships to move forward together. The Melifera adventure should be a meaningful adventure for everyone. Its success is based on the perfect balance between the three pillars of sustainable development: environment / ecology, social link and economy.
Do you have any examples?
Certain plots of the Melifera garden, that are not suitable for the cultivation of our aromatics, will be left in meadows, a plus in terms of floristic diversity. This will be especially interesting for wild pollinators and the black bees of the beekeeper we will welcome as part of our partnership with the association of the Black Bee Conservatory in Oleron. A real exchange in terms of pollination. These meadows will also make it possible to create partnerships with local breeders whos’ sheep or goats will graze the land. We are already working towards achieving this with the creation of an eco-grazing service.
A part of the Melifera site, which is located on the edge of the woods will become an eco-grazing space with goats and donkeys (from the Les Anes d’Oleron farm). Currently, other farmers are also helping us with agricultural work that requires specific skills and equipment to prepare the ground for future plantings. Without the help of the island’s farmers, moving forward would be difficult and we are grateful for the trust they place in us. We hope in the long term to be able to develop other types of partnerships until one day maybe developing the production of PAM among farmers. There is still a long way to go…
How is Melifera involved in more global biodiversity issues?
In a very concrete way, through local actions. Take the case of the immortelle, the flagship product of Melifera. Additionally, to the flowers we grow ourselves, there is also a wild species that grows on the dunes of Oleron and which is the basis of the brand’s history. In the context of the preservation issue of this specie, just as we do with the CANO association for the conservation of black bees, we wish to support the actions carried out by the National Forestry Office which is to perform experiments to fight against the disappearance of gray dunes. Wild immortal flowers, black bees, dunes, coastline … so many important causes for the territory that are also on a larger scale. As a committed brand, it is Melifera’s commitment to respond, through local actions, to the global challenges of preserving the environment, biodiversity, or food … Our local actions have a real impact and reverberate well beyond the territory.
Back to the Brand Space. In the field, how does Melifera work for its implementation?
We work together with a landscape architect and local farmers to give the Jardin Melifera its own identity, according to the specifications that we have established. The idea is to have an agro-ecological site management to be fully in line with the brand’s vision and commitments. Beyond organic farming of course, we will do everything we can to promote biodiversity and the fertility of living soils on the production site. These are very important issues today. We are therefore going to plant hedges and trees, manage the eco-grazing site, work on the establishment of plant covers, mulching, or BRF to bring carbon to the soil. The aim is to create an agroecosystem that will ultimately balance itself.
What’s your timing?
We are aiming for spring, for the planting of immortelle flowers and other aromatics, the establishment of the Brand Space and its layout. Today, we are tackling the preparation of the land to accommodate crops and tree plantations, but also all the necessary administrative procedures. Because the island of Oleron is classified as a landscape site, we have duties, landscape concerns and many regulations to respect to be able to initiate the project.
What is it that particularly appeals to you about this new mission?
It is to implement what I believe in today. What is very motivating is sharing the same convictions as Cécile and Christophe! No matter the difficulties and pitfalls we meet along the way, it is because we believe in the same things that we will manage. What is even more exciting is that we are not alone in this project! Recently, I had the visit of a trainer and a plant expert specializing in aromatic and medicinal plantations and they found the site to be amazing and with great potential.
This role within Melifera has many facets, at the crossroads of my aspirations and my experience, and leaves a lot of room for actions. Of course, there are constraints and economic objectives, but what I like is being in the field, working in line with the values of a committed brand which I also share and taking action.