For centuries, salt workers have been the heirs to and guardians of a unique heritage. A salt worker is a magician: he takes a drop of water and extracts a grain of salt.
The job of a salt worker is one of the few agricultural professions to use a technique that does not involve mechanisation or the addition of chemicals.
This traditional production technique is used to produce quality salt and preserve an outstanding environment.
As part of our quality strategy, training for salt workers was soon perceived as a vital stage. Skills that had been passed down from father to son for over a thousand years were slowly dying out, leaving little opportunity for new arrivals.
In 1979, a Diploma in Farm Management, Salt farming option was introduced in Loire-Atlantique with the aim of renewing and sustaining the profession by opening it out to young people.
Training is organised by the Chamber of Agriculture - Download the document (Pays de la Loire Region agreement).
A passion season by season
Though salt is harvested in summer, the harvest is prepared in winter, and, in order to operate properly, a salt works depends on year-round activity: alone or together, the salt worker adapts his work to the rhythm of the seasons.
To protect the marshes from the frost and bad weather, the salt marsh worker covers them in water. This season is entirely devoted to mud flat clearing (scoring), bank maintenance (reinforcement, trimming down the plants) and the cleaning of supply and evacuation channels, as well as any repairs requires following storms.
In early March, the salt works and ponds have to be drained of accumulated rain water (“algir”), the mud and green algae have to be removed and the clay dykes (“bridges”) forming the salt works water circuit have to be reinforced. This is also a time for working in groups to completely rebuild (“chaussage”), a set of “oeillets” (“lotie”) every 25 years.
This is the salt harvest. A salt worker runs an average of 50 to 60 “œillets” (covering 3 to 4 hectares), and this means long working days. However, production varies greatly according to hours of sunshine, wind and rainfall.
Once the salt has been “rolled”, i.e. placed under shelter for the winter, the pace of work slows down until mid-November. However, the rest period may be interrupted in the event of a very high tide to protect the salt works.
In Guérande, a salt worker produces an average of 60 to 90 tonnes of coarse salt and 2 to 3 tonnes of flower of salt every year! But this production varies considerably according to weather conditions (from 0 to 200 tonnes of coarse salt).
The salt worker's tools
The tools used in the salt marshes have changed little over the centuries and most of them are still made of wood.
The “las” (rake)
This has a long, flexible handle 5 metres long and is the best-known as it is used to harvest coarse salt.
The flower of salt “lousse” (rake)
Traditionally made of wood, the flower of salt “lousse” is used to collect flower of salt from the surface of the “œillets”. There are now more sophisticated “louses” made of modern materials of a quality acceptable for use in food production.
This is used to transport the salt from the “ladures” (round mounds on the dykes) to the “trémet” (salt pile). In the early 1950’s it replaced the “gède”, a wooden recipient that the women carried balanced on their heads using a rolled-up canvas cushion known as the “torche”. Barrows can hold 120 to 150kg of salt.
The “lousse à ponter”
The “lousse à ponter” is similar to the flower of salt “lousse”, but has a shorter, fatter handle. It is used for annual repairs to the bridges.
The “limu” rake
This is used for raking green algae.
The “cesse” (made of wood)
The “cesse” is a large scoop used to pump water or remove liquid mud.
The “boyette” (or “houlette”) (made of sheet steel)
This is the salt worker’s shovel, used for certain types of maintenance work in the salt marshes.
Le “boutoué” (made of wood)
A similar shape to the “las”, it is used to push the mud into the “fares” and “œillets” (ponds) before the harvest to ensure that the bottoms are clean.