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The slow change from French family farm to trendy tourist spot

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Roulet also won't plant more pear or cherry trees: The market price for these fruits is dropping and will drop further when Spain enters the EC in January. Talk of these cheap imports turns Roulet's normally warm disposition into an angry one.

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Several years ago, Roulet began looking for new sources of income. His attention focused on St. Maximin's social transformation. During the last 30 years, the number of residents has doubled to 560. The newcomers don't farm: They come to vacation.

In a nation that only industrialized on a wide scale during the past generation, simple, back-to-nature holidays are in vogue even with French sophisticates. The value of old farmhouses started soaring, and once-poor farmers sold out at great profits.

``Today there are no bargains left,'' explains a real-estate agent in Uz`es. ``Those peasants aren't stupid anymore.''

``Here the land retains mystical connotations,'' explains sociologist Jean-Michel Roux. ``Frenchmen dream of owning a house in a small village.''

Roulet decided to cater to this dream -- without selling his farm. Installing the plumbing and electricity himself, he renovated his building. Under the shade out front, he set up wooden tables. In the yard, he put in a swimming pool. In 1977, the work was finished and he opened for business.

The result is what the French call a gite, a rustic farm-hotel. Such simple accommodations are fast becoming one of the most popular ways to vacation in France. Robert Maurieu of the French Federation of Gites says that, after only 30 years of existence, there now are some 32,000 gites throughout the France. ``There are 1,000 new ones every year,'' he adds.

The Roulets' is typical. They rent two five-room apartments to families. They also offer six simple double bedrooms. And at the far end of their field, they have opened a registered campground.

Their twin 25-year-old daughters, Corrine and Sylvie, rise early to prepare pots of coffee and plates of baguettes and fresh farm jam. In addition to the special holiday feasts, Mrs. Roulet prepares huge meals every night. A double room runs $10 a night, including breakfast. Dinner costs $5 extra.

The Roulets only take guests during July and August. They explain that not enough tourists want to stay for them to remain open during the other months. But they hope that will change.

``I'd like to do this four months a year, and just farm a bit on the side,'' says Monsieur Roulet. ``Tourism is a better business.''

He reflects for a moment. He enjoys tourism. He says it permits him to meet people he would never have met otherwise, and he loves people.

But he also knows that his farming life is fading away. Economics are slowly killing the family farm. Roulet's sons, Alain and Maurice, have become farmers, but Roulet does not recommend the career to his four daughters.

During the winter months, they work in the nearest big town, N^imes. Without the extra income from his gite, Roulet knows he might not be able to stay on the land.