One of the best things about living in this corner of our little planet in space is the great produce one can find locally. Farmer’s markets abound and I was thrilled we arrived home to learn that our village has, in addition to the regular Friday market, a producers only Tuesday morning version.
Three years ago when we packed our bags to head back to Canada the only local farmer’s market was up the hill in Uzes and there was only one organic producer.Now both the Tuesday and Friday market here are teeming with dedicated, young farmers who care about what they grow and sell.
Take Loic and Hedwige Martin for example. In their thirties, the couple farm about 2/3 of a hectare of prime land near St. Siffret. They were originally certified organic but to differentiate themselves from other organic farmers, they’re now using a relatively new technic called Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW). This revolutionary method was developed in the mid 80’s by a team of researchers at Laval University in Québec. They discovered that the best way to regenerate a spent, dead soil was to cover it with a thin layer of chipped hardwood branches. But not just any branch will do. Loic explains to me that only young wood of 7cm diameter or less have the proper balance of carbon and living cells. He sources his wood from local landscaping firms then roughly chops them up and spreads them over his soil. Over time this thin layer of wood decomposes through the action of a white mould, basidiomycota. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basidiomycete. The result is a moist, dark, living soil that Loic claims is 500 times more nourishing than a standard agricultural soil. Although his vegetables don’t look as perfect as those from traditional producers, they are full of complex, intense flavours.
As an added calling card, the couple grow some very distinct plants – ficoide glaciale, a furry leafed lemon flavoured salad green and something called Para watercress that leaves me with a stinging, tingling sensation in the mouth. An acquired taste I think.
A few stands away I run into another not so young organic producer named Luc Descoins. After many years in the insurance business he decided at 50 that the best way to do something meaningful for the planet, his community and his family was to go into organic farming.
Luc’s wife, Azra, took a year-long, hands on class at a local agricultural school to learn how to make it all work and the couple took the plunge in 2008. Today he grows salad, zucchini, aubergine, green beans, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables on a hectare of excellent, certified organic land that he leases from two local landowners.
Luc finds more and more people are buying organic, even though a recent study pegged organic fruits and vegetable prices a whopping 70% higher than conventionally grown produce. Luc’s prices, however seem mostly in line with the other traditional producers at the market and he explains to me that buying direct from the farmer as opposed to a distributor keeps the price down. As if on cue, a Parisian woman wanders over to his stand and is amazed by his low prices.
As for the future of organic farming in the south of France, Luc is optimistic. The key, he feels is to get the consumer out of the supermarket and back to local farmer’s markets where one is guaranteed the most nutritional, healthy produce available. The reward for Luc is the direct contact he has with his growing base of satisfied customers. The wide smiles on their faces makes it all worthwhile. www.lesjardinsbiodeluc.fr