Planting is Love

Reading Time: 13 min


“I come from a world very sick, full of fear, full of greed. I focused the first part of my life following a path to make my family and myself secure.”

Olivier Stulmacher worked in finance.

“Finance people say there are economic models that explain our world, but this is totally wrong, all of the models fail, all of the models turned into crisis, to more people starving, people poisoned, to the devastation of nature. So this is the result, and why is that so? People believe these models reflect the world, but in reality people created these models. And on the inside of the models are these core feelings of fear and greed.”

These emotions fuel the capitalist system, but they also fuel the way we interact.

“The more you feel fear, the more you’re going to feel greed, and the more things you try to possess, the more you’re going to feel afraid. It’s an insatiable, infinite circle. And when I realised that, I realised I had to reverse this inside me, not inside others, but first inside me.”

This journey Olivier had embarked on was observed by his son Benjamin.

“My Father was unsatisfied with the life he was living. It was through a series of events, which brought a lot of pain to him. And so he was looking in all of these intellectual ideas, and then someone ended up giving him a book written by a tantra master and it started a whole process of changing his life and entering this world of self-development, and focusing this process on himself.”

Benjamin’s mother Nathalie started to share Olivier’s interest. 

“It was a search for what is true, what is the meaning of life, a search for happiness.”

Benjamin eventually joined his parents at a lecture by Benki Piyãko, political and spiritual leader of the Asháninka people from the Amazon rain forest, who was travelling through France at the time.

“I was living a normal Parisian life. I was a bright kid so I studied a lot, politics and finance, and I was looking to develop a lot through reading books and watching movies. I also liked to party. And I had not seen someone like Benki before. I had not seen someone saying, I speak this way because I believe it’s the truth, because it’s my truth. I had not met someone who had this inside, this strength.”

Benki spoke about the importance and wisdom of the forest and the Earth, and our responsibility as humans to nurture our natural environment, which supports humanity so generously. Benjamin had just finished his studies and was looking for a job in the movie industry, but listening to Benki and understanding his perspective shifted something inside.

“I understood a lot of things, that everything I was feeling since I was a child was true, that there was not a problem with me, there was a problem with the world. We are supposed to love, we are supposed to help each other, we’re supposed to take care. I felt I needed to take care of the land also, of Earth, I needed to find a new way.”

Looking up to the green foliage of a sumauma tree at the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute.
A sumaúma tree at the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute.

Benjamin travelled to the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute to focus two weeks on learning from Benki and the environmental regeneration and protection project he founded. Benjamin then returned to Paris to sell sandwiches and, as he says, “wait and find what I had to do.” After some time, he decided to journey to the Institute for a second time, for another two weeks, and while he was there he felt a path emerge.

“I imagined some kind of project like Benki’s, but then I told myself, this is not your world, you’re from the city, you’re going to find a way to help Mother Nature in your way. So when I got back to Paris I started to work in a foundation that was planting trees. It was really nice to have a purpose in what I was doing, but eventually it felt like my whole life was in front of a computer and I knew I couldn’t continue doing this. So I decided to see if I could spend more time with Benki, because I felt truth, I felt that this was the direction I had to take, and I went there and this time I lived in the forest for five months.

“I was planting trees almost every day, and I don’t remember if it emerged suddenly, but I knew by the end of my trip that what I had to do was to was go back to my country and do the same thing that they were doing at the Institute, which is taking care of of the Earth and planting trees. So I came back with this feeling that I am going to find land and plant trees and take care of nature and develop myself like this, and I told my parents about this project and they said, ‘let’s go, we will help you buy the land.’”

Olivier was happy when Benjamin shared his idea.

“I wanted to use the possibility that was given to me by my old life, focused on money, to make a better world. The land was his mission but it was my mission to help him achieve it.”

Olivier’s mission was to also support others to understand a different path in life is possible. 

“For example, I’m teaching in a business school, but unlike most of the teachers who are academics, people who never left the education system, I was in the position to say, ‘okay what you want to achieve, I achieved it, I know what it’s like.’ So it was possible for me to explain how it really was, because of my past.

“A part of me knows that I am responsible for the current  situation on Earth. And one of the greatest sadnesses I feel is to see that most of the people I meet my age or older cannot accept that they are responsible. Because if all of us who are older than 50 accept that it’s our responsibility, things would change like that. So today it’s one of the messages that I’m trying to pass on, to help people to recover this consciousness of care. One of the main impacts I have on young people is the fact that I’m old and they’re used to older people telling them exactly the contrary to what I am saying. They say not to follow their instincts, they say not to follow their feelings, they say not to follow what is true, to follow instead what is going to protect them. And I realised as well that my mission was just to pass on a different way.”

Understanding a different way was supported by witnessing the path that Benjamin was walking, having returned from the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute with this idea rooted in his mind.

“I started looking for land but very slowly, there was no hurry, because I knew I had to do things slowly, but while I was looking I needed to be occupied, I knew I had to stay in nature otherwise I would not be happy. And I wanted to learn how to do things, to start studying the trees and what projects already existed, so I was looking for internships and woofing on different farms. I was most interested in places to plant trees, because I felt what I had to do was to plant trees. So every time I would find somewhere I could plant trees, I would go there, because planting was developing my energy. The more I planted the better I felt. So this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to plant trees to be happy, and also for the Earth.”

The search for land was focused around the centre of France.

“I wasn’t looking too much in the south or near to the Atlantic Ocean and not in the mountains, so it was more or less in the centre, my heart was calling for this region.” 

This process was slow, and during this period Benjamin met his now wife Rosana, and he returned to the Amazon rain forest, to the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute, to continue his studies in environmental regeneration. 

“When I came back to France, I saw this announcement online, about the land where we now have the farm, and I got a strong call from my heart and I felt I had to go see this. So we arrived, we planned to stay for two weeks in the region to look for a property, and we come to the farm, we arrive in the car, we sit in the kitchen, we talk with the the owner, we had not seen the land, and we just started a tour of the house, and we walked up the stairs and I felt we are going to live here, because my heart knew, it was like the land called me. Eventually we phoned the owner and found an agreement, and on June 30 in 2020, we signed the papers and moved in.”

The branches of an oak tree at Vernassac farm.
An oak tree at Vernassac farm.

Benjamin and Rosana became the custodians of the farm, which is named Vernessac, 88 hectares of mostly empty fields with little vegetation.

“I saw some places with already a lot of forest, but no, my destiny is to plant places where there are no trees and to work on this.”

For Benjamin, the first step was to observe and connect with the land. 

“Nature is different wherever you are, so to know how to engage with it you need to connect with the trees, with the waters, with the birds, connect with what is here. I had read a lot of books, I studied a lot of videos, I learned from what other people were doing, and I also remembered what I learned in the forest, but I still had to find my own way of doing things. And I had some worries, because I was like, it’s so big, what am I going to do? I don’t know, I don’t know that much. But the process was to plant, and the process was to learn, so I was always calming myself down, we’re here to learn.

“A lot of projects are kind of an Occidental response to the environment, linked a lot with science. I have not seen everything, there are some things that are really well done and there are a lot of projects that I admire a lot, but I want to do something here that is connected to the indigenous strength I learned from, with their vision of life. It’s linking with the spiritual and talking about love, not only saving nature but in developing love and conscience inside of people and inside of ourselves through planting and learning. Because we have to do things with love and compassion and really connect with nature, not only producing, not only putting trees in the ground, but making our conscience grow, our love grow, our joy grow.

“It’s a connection. When you look at nature, when you’re able to feel nature, you feel what she is, which is love, which is joy, which is peace. You see a tree, there is wind moving it, there are animals eating it, yet it stays with the same peace, and it gives, it gives, it only gives, without complaining, just growing in its rhythm. And I think when you plant a tree, you connect with the spirit of the tree, and you’re getting stronger in who you are and what you want to do. And I don’t know about all the mysteries of life, but I want to be happy, so I’m doing this because it makes me happy, and I believe it can make a lot of people happy.“

There is a deep, embodied intelligence to Benjamin’s approach to planting and regenerating the land at Vernessac.

“The first time we planted it was a line of trees. I went to buy, I think, 150 fruit trees. I had read everything about them, the space in between that is needed, the kind of soil, the design that needs to be done, and my head is becoming a bit crazy about how I am going to organise this plantation. I was in my house with all my papers, I’m going to do it like this, I had the plan. And I went out and I go to the place I want to plant, and it’s so big and there are only a few trees and I’m looking at it, I’m with all my papers and I was thinking this one needs this much space, this one needs this. And then this feeling comes to me, stop everything, you want to plant trees, go and connect with them. And I went to the place where I kept the trees and I connected with the trees and my thoughts stopped.

“The next day we planted and then it was planted. We don’t need to know everything, it’s the planting that matters. If it is not right, we can do it again, we can correct it, we can change it, but we will have planted. And each day, each year we learn more, we do better, we organise better, and we learn and we develop these things. Sometimes it feels like we are being guided, as if we have this connection with the land and it’s slowly giving us the means to develop as it wants to be developed.

“We need to evolve to listen more to how nature works. The first year we planted one way, the second year was already a bit different, the third year was more different, because the more time we spend in nature, the more we observe, the more we see, the more we understand, and the more we develop the ways we want to do things. What’s important is that we are not scared, because there is no reason to be scared, mistakes are human and we just need to do.”

Olivier Stulmacher planting trees at the Vernessac farm.
Olivier Stulmacher planting at the Vernessac farm.

Although there is an emphasis on activity, the project is not focused on productivity.

“I wanted to keep out of my head an emphasis on money, because if I’m focused on money, I’m not going to take care of nature. The way I did the things here is we are going to do things for nature, because nature is giving us all that we need: air, food and water. And if we need more, nature is going to give us more for us to sell. Everybody wants money in society, but taking care of nature is another world. So I thought, you cannot carry any worry, this is the way nature works, and taking care of nature you will always have, your kids will always have. That was my thinking, and that was what I always had to remind myself when I started to worry or feel overwhelmed by everything that had to be done, or has to be done, because there is still a lot to do.”

A key focus for the work at Vernessac is biodiversity.

“We’re planting with the most possible diversity, because it is what is going to make the nature here strong. Feeding all kinds of birds, animals, insects with all kinds of plants, feeding plants with other plants, feeding ourselves with the most diversity we can. This is how you make something strong. Why are the oldest forest of the world so strong? Because they are diverse. It’s the same thing with a human community, when people are diverse, they hold up their strengths and they all support each other, they help each other. When one is down, the other is up, and they just help each other, and that’s what we are trying to do here.”

It’s easy to feel inspired by Benjamin’s approach to planting, and the tangible connection he shares with the land. There is a simplicity and truth in the words that he shares, and a humility in all of his actions.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it, because I didn’t know anything. Most of what I share, most of what I know I learned from Benki and the community at the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute. And something they taught me was that everybody can do this. Everybody can be happy, everybody can plant, everybody can take care. Of course I had money that led me to buy this big place, which is a responsibility I am going to expand.”

This expanded vision is through the association that Benjamin and Rosana have formed, Les Jeunes Gardiens de la Foret, the Young Keepers of the Forest. The focus for the association is to teach people how to plant, to regenerate land and to support more projects like the one at Vernessac.

“This project is an answer to what we are feeling from the Earth right now, how we are seeing the land suffering, people suffering, all of these climatic events, everything that is happening. A big part of what we are doing is assuming our responsibility as a human being on this Earth, which has always given to us, so we have to give back to ensure the future of the generations to come.

“This project is to plant trees, but also to inspire others. As Benki said, ‘we are planting trees, but we also hope to plant a seed in the hearts of others.’ Especially children and young people, to encourage them to assume this responsibility and live the happy way of planting. This is why our farm will be open for others to visit, to learn like I learned from Benki and from the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute. We want to transmit these teachings so more projects can emerge like this and maybe we can save the future for the generations that are coming, maybe we can save the Earth like this.”

In the four years since finding the land, with the support of a growing community, Benjamin and Rosana have planted more than 25,000 plants.

“Even with no money, we can plant trees, we can take care of nature. Everybody can do it. It’s not difficult. The only thing we have to do is to want to do it, to find the courage inside of ourselves to do it and not be scared. It’s not difficult, we create the difficulties that exist, they are in our mind, all of the difficulties are in our mind. But if we stop a bit our mind and find a tree and plant it in the ground, then it’s already a big victory.“

When I listen to this story — and I listen to Olivier’s search for truth and of Benjamin’s experiences planting — I appreciate how both the landscape and the Stulmacher family have regenerated together. Olivier’s father was financially very poor. 

“His obsession in life was to get money and to create safety for his family. He was really obsessed with that. But he had a very difficult childhood, he was hidden during the war, and it was really difficult for him, and with all that was given to him he did his best. I look at my Father, with absolutely no faith in God, just fears and love for his family, but a lot of fears, and I see Benjamin overcoming fear, and that’s enough for me because I know if he’s like that, I did my part, which is the most I can do.“

Benjamin now has a son of his own, Joseph. I ask Benjamin what he wants to pass onto him?

A child planting trees with his parents in the background.
Joseph planting trees with Rosana and Benjamin.

“I will always try to transmit to him what is necessary for a happy life, which is to have love, have peace, have joy, be nice, be kind and give help. And to take care of what is giving life to you, take care of Earth, of the waters, of the animals, because they are your life, they give you air, water, food, and also happiness.”


Anton Rivette is a writer and photographer. He leads storytelling at eco-nnect.

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