In the 1970s in Franche-Comté, a region in eastern France, industry threw thousands of workers on the scrapheap. Social workers felt powerless to help these excluded people, yet keen to work. An idea was developed to create companies to provide them with work. Inspired by a Swiss model to which a social component has been added, Jean-Guy Henckel, at this time youth worker in a shelter, created the first Cocagne’s Garden in Chalezeule (Doubs) in 1991, supported by Julienne Javel’s association. It followed a concept which combined the principle of a short distribution circuit to customers who were also members of the association, social integration by means of employment, and finally the strict rules of organic farming.
The concept was strongly attracting and quickly other gardens were created throughout France. To cope with demands from individuals, associations, communities wishing to set up this type of project, a spin-off strategy took place in 1994. From 1996 to 1999, the number of Gardens passed from 20 to 50. In order to respond to their needs of development and coordination, the Gardens decided to gather together in a national entity. In 1999, they founded the Réseau Cocagne (Cocagne Network). Jean-Guy Henckel became his manager.