France's increasing urbanization has led to green spaces being displaced by concrete deserts. The trend has disrupted social ties and increased poverty. In response, a movement has emerged over the last 20 years that represents healthy, regional and socially responsible growth and consumption. Community gardens, regional producer associations and collectively run farm shops are becoming more and more popular. The collective activism has spawned networks, some of which are now firmly established.
The movement's aims are to make a collective difference, reduce the greenhouse effect, promote regional and organic farming, and encourage creative solutions.
Many farmers have formed regional producer associations that are known as Community Sourced Agriculture (CSA) in English. These so-called AMAPs (Associations pour le Maintien d'une Agriculture Paysanne) promote regional and organic farming, and try to remain competitive against industrial agriculture. AMAPs aim to establish a direct link between producers and consumers in order to distribute agricultural products locally at a fair price without lengthy transport times.
Since the creation of the first AMAP in 2001, regional associations have been established in almost all regions in France. 2016 saw more than 66,000 family businesses and almost 270,000 consumers organize themselves in more than 1,800 regional AMAPs nationwide. All AMAP members strive to comply with a charter of 18 criteria for sustainable management.
In many cities and municipalities in France, the inhabitants have joined together to form associations in order to manage a community garden. Here, important decisions are made together and the principles of solidarity, conviviality and exchange between generations and cultures are at the forefront. Respect for the plants is a top priority in the community gardens. The use of pesticides is therefore prohibited. Instead, casual gardeners experiment with straw covers, composting and green manure. The “green oases” are usually located on the outskirts, so that the residents can reach them on foot and the entire district benefits from “greening”.
Inspired by New Yorkers who came up with the idea during the 1980s, there are now between 800 and 1000 such community gardens in France today, roughly a quarter of them in the Rhône-Alpes region and around 100 in Paris.
The idea is simple: bring the produce of regional farmers together in one central place, thus avoiding the detour via retail and other intermediaries. Consumers can find everything they need there. The range extends from fresh and seasonal fruit and vegetables to processed products such as meat and sausages, homemade preserves, cheese, eggs and beverages. By bringing producers and consumers directly together, the community shops enable producers to sell their products in larger quantities and at a price between 20% and 30% higher than at the large supermarket chains. In addition, manufacturers can share the cost of the shop floor and be closer to their consumers. Division of labour in sales is an additional advantage. Joint sales allows farmers to diversify their production and young entrepreneurs to close gaps in local production.
Today there are around 250 such outlets throughout France since the first farm shop opened its doors in 1978.
The concept of community shops contributes to the preservation of local agriculture and at the same time ensures a healthy, responsible, seasonal and economically viable diet. It thus meets the expectations of both consumers and producers and strengthens the social network of the various regional players.
In 1955, there were 2 million farms in France, a figure that has now fallen to around 100,000. Each week around 200 farms close their doors because there are no successors or buyers.
In principle, producers who sell their goods via the large retail chains earn significantly less than those who sell their products themselves. The latter do not have the same level of high competitive pressure.
About 71% of fruits and 41% of vegetables sold on the French Rungis wholesale market are imported. Just about 1% of Parisian food is of French origin, despite the fact that 48% of the land in the Paris region (Ile-de-France region) is used for agriculture. The once tradtional link between consumers and food has been almost completely lost here.