French farmers using the Web for a lot more than crop prices


Patrick Maignan found his love on a dating site for farmers

Patrick Maignan, a robust gray-haired farmer, lives alone on his farm, surrounded only by the freshly plowed wheat fields of this lonely corner of northern France.

Far from tourist routes and cellphone coverage, he works seven days a week, milking his 40 cows twice a day, sometimes breaking with routine by taking classes in traditional Breton dances or chatting with women on the Internet.

Divorced in 1996, Mr. Maignan, 51, had given up hopes of finding another mate. “When women knew I was a farmer,” he said, “they fled.” The loneliness of the farming life is a major issue for France, whose inhabitants worship the land but prefer to live in the city.

But then Mr. Maignan found Claire Chollet, a 49-year-old director of human resources, on atraverschamps.com, or “acrossthefields.com,” an online dating site reserved for farmers like himself.

Mr. Maignan said he now plans to marry Ms. Chollet, a divorced Parisian mother of two, and buy a house together in the village nearby.

Atraverschamps.com is one of a handful of online dating sites devoted to “rural people,” farmers and others who live in the countryside or wish to find their soulmates there. Luc Gagnon, who founded atraverschamps.com in 2001, said that it nearly doubled its number of subscribers in the past year to 17,287, while other sites like vachement.fr, have had an average of 1,200 hits a day in the past year…

The lack of love in the countryside is a serious topic for a country that sees its bedrock in small farmers and their produce, which is supposed to be uniquely of the place where it is grown. According to the Agriculture Ministry, about 30 percent of male French farmers did not have a partner in 2009.

Loneliness is particularly acute among male farmers between 18 and 35, especially cattle farmers, who generally spend more time working than other farmers. About 36 percent of cattle farmers were single in 2009, according to the ministry.

RTFA. A delight. The urban ethos in Europe is stronger than in the United States. For many, living in the countryside is a sentence designed for political prisoners.

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