GILBERT and Th'er`ese Guillon live something like their ancestors from the Middle Ages. They rise at 6 a.m. to milk their 12 cows. Then they feed the chickens, care for the pigs, wash down the calves, and sow seeds in the fields. Stopping twice for quick meals, they seldom finish their daily chores before 10 p.m. ``After us, no one else will put up with this,'' Mr. Guillon says. ``We know no other way.''
For generations, landowning peasants were the symbol of social stability. They were protected by French governments of every political persuasion. But in the last generation, France has become primarily industrial -- in agriculture as well as in manufacturing.
The small agricultural unit is no longer economically viable. Twenty years ago, Guillon says, there were 10,000 small farms in the Brou area. None were more than 125 acres, and each produced a little milk, a little meat, and a little wheat. Today, he says, there are only 1,000 such farms.
His daughter started work as a secretary in town after finishing her high school education. ``She likes to garden, nothing more,'' Guillon says.
Large farms face a more optimistic future.
To the north of Brou on the Beauce wheat plain, the farms average 300 acres. Instead of living like the Guillons in run-down two-room apartments with an outhouse, men such as Daniel Buhot enjoy luxurious renovated farmhouses, complete with chandeliers and indoor plumbing.
``I spend half my time in my office here with my calculator,'' says Mr. Buhot, ``and the other half of my time out on the fields with my tractors.''
Buhot owns three John Deere tractors. He also owns a combine-harvester and a sophisticated irrigation system.
The stocky, rugged man likes to compare himself to an Illinois grain mogul. His results, he says, equal the best results of any American farmer. But he still proudly calls himself a peasant.
``I am tied to the land just like my forefathers,'' he explains. ``That makes me a peasant.''