Bringing Organic Produce to Paris

In the courtyard of 56 rue des Saints Pères, a building dating back from 1772 which now houses Sciences Po Paris classrooms, surrounded by fashion houses that dominate the world of haute couture, a very small organic market is taking place. The farmer, Patrick, arrived at ten to six in the evening in his white Citroen Jumper van and 80 crates of vegetables. Each crate includes one cauliflower, a bag of watercress salad, one leek, three pears, four apples and five tomatoes. They weigh five kilograms each and cost ten euros. The contents will vary according to the season but the price stay constant. The customers are slowly accumulating around the crates, they have already paid for the produce in advance, and people are chatting with one another in such a way that it feels like a smalltown market.

 

“It is rare to get organic products in Paris at the right price. This system respects the environment, the producer and the consumer,” Nina Besana, the self-appointed organiser of this mini-market, explains on behalf of the Pavés association. “It offers an alternative form of organising consumption in an environmentally sustainable manner” she adds, while insisting that the Pavés association isn´t political as such, that its members just come together to work on products related to sustainable development of the environment without adhering to anarchist or communist ideology.

 

Spotting the farmer, Patrick, isn’t very difficult. He is older than the group of students, his blue jumper has a little pieces of wood on it and his shoes aren’t quite enough for Paris. However, he is wearing jeans and his hair and stubble is clearly well taken care of. He has brown eyes, with wrinkles that must come from smiling all the time, he is tanned and has obviously spent time outdoors, his nose is very straight and he is handsome, with a deep chin dimple. He is also patient, willing to explain in detail how he cultivates each vegetable to those who are keen to listen, regardless of the audiences previous knowledge of the agricultural industry.
 
Patrick is in the process of becoming an official organic farmer, this will take two years, after which he will be allowed to marks his produce with the “AB” (agriculture biologique) stamp. According to statistics from the Organic Food agency in France (Agence Bio), many French farmers are moving towards accreditation for organic farming practices. In 2010, official organic produce was 2% of the total food production in France, in July 2011, there were 22,594 organic farms in France, compared to 16,446 in 2009. The market for organic products in France has also increased its turnover dramatically in the past few years, in 2010 it was 3.38 billion euros, compared to only 1.6 billion euros in 2005.

“I never saw a reason to apply for official organic farming status, although I´ve been producing organically since the start in 2006, and my customers know me, they trust me. But now I think its better to make it official, so I’m in the process of getting the AB sticker.” Patrick explains that it is much more time consuming to farm with organic methods. It takes at least 150 hours of manual labour to treat 1 ha of organic carrots, which will produce around 23 tons of carrots. The same work can be done in one hour if chemical fertilizers are used.

“Farmers choose organic farming for two reasons: To protect the environment and human health. Some farmers have serious health issues such as cancer with chemical produce so these farmers wanted to stop the chemical process.” Sophie Valleix, spkoesperson for A BioDoc explained. “Many farmers also converted to organic produce because its more economical for them” she added.

Before buying a farm, Patrick worked in the National Forestry Office. When he started out, all of his customers came to his farmhouse and bought his produce directly. They still do, but he also drives out these crates to six institutes of higher education in Paris, following an initiative by students of INAPG (Institut National agronomique Paris-Grignon) who asked him to sell his produce directly to chosen students who would pay for one month’s worth of vegetables in advance.

“Not many farmers are keen on catering directly to students, the academic calendar is almost opposite to the seasonal calendar, but I like having student-clients, they are truly interested in how to cultivate crops in a sustainable way, they ask pertinent questions. My other clients, mostly families, talk more about prices and recipe ideas”.

Patrick likes to try new things. This year he experimented with growing African cucumbers which are apparently completely different from European ones, so much so that they are also called horned melon. They are yellow and sometimes orange as well as green in colour and apparently taste like a combination of banana, cucumber and lemon.

When Patrick starts packing up his crates, the market slowly disappears. He will return to his farm about an hours drive from Paris, just outside of Rambouillet, where his wife awaits him, and the students will go back home and fill their fridge with vegetables to attempt to cook in between essays and presentations, before next weeks mini-market.

Follow on Twitter: Kamma Thordarson

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