Good Food, Good Farming – Let’s march to Brussels!
In Lille we headed to meet members and supporters of Confederation Paysanne at, what had been called, ‘à la Ferme du Sart’ – The Farm of Sart. The son from the giant sports retailing family that owns ‘Decathlon’, which had branches in most high streets across France, had started this new enterprise. The Confederation Paysanne and others questioned the use of a farm/farmers identity by a business which is proving to be primarily a retail operation and is manoeuvring to expand through franchises. A previous protest at another branch saw a sign being pulled down by tractor and hearing about today’s planned visit the owner had decided to bow to pressure, dropping ‘à la Ferme’ from the beginning of the name.
On route we have also seen another way that food retailing can be organised. We stopped in France, and then again in Belgium at farmers co-operative shops.
‘Au Panier Vert’ is a co-operative of 30 producers who decided to work together to directly retail their produce from a small shop they started on one of their farms, close to Lille. 80% of the sale price goes back to the producer the other 20% is kept for the costs of the co-operative. Over the years they have built a shop and food processing facilities and then later expanded it. Now they offer a large range of meat, diary, fruit, vegetables, plants and bakery produce. Their produce sells at a similar price to that of the big supermarkets.
We also stopped at the abattoir of the co-operative ‘Coprosain’ at Ath in Belgium. Coprosain was created following protests against the closure of the local diary. A number of farmers decided to create a new co-operative diary business processing their milk and retailing their other produce from the premises. Customers asked why they could not also purchase meat from the animals that the farmers reared and in response to this demand the co-operative made the necessary investment to open their own abattoir. Eighty percent of the co-operative is owned by the producers. The co-op has been extremely successful, opening two additional shops, also selling at 18 markets. It employs 45 workers. Despite much interest they decided not to expand their operation beyond the 45 producers involved now. They don’t want to create another huge corporation but would rather see numerous local initiatives.
There is a clear contrast between this model, shops selling exclusively locally grown and processed produce with the growers getting a fair price for their work and the more common model where farmers produce for the commodity markets with large buyers and supermarkets occupying hugely powerful positions in the supply chain and making huge profits while growers struggle to make ends meet.
Today We left the farm Beukenhof after taking a photo with all the people coming there for useful empoyment suited to their abilties. They helped us hold the banner and shout our slogans: what do we want?: Good Food! When do we want it? Now!
When crossing a busy main road we unfolded the large banner across the railing and most of the truck drivers switched on their lights, hooted and waved before driving under into the viaduct, which was fun.
In Hoogstraten we had our lunch on a bench in the beuatiful beguinage and later coffee on a pavement café. There were lots of people around to watch beautiful art works made out of vegetables and flowers. A good destination for food???? We gave some of them leaflets to counterbalance it.
After proceeding onto sandier and sandier tracks till we had to walk and asking around we at last arrived at the place in Vorselaar, where Friends of the Earth are having a conference this week and they were kind enough to offer us hospitality. Tonight we spent a real GOOD FOOD evening at the organic farm of Bavo Verwimp, where Flemish organisations such as WERVEL and voedselGroup had brought the Greek professor Kamenides who set up this great scheme for short chains which is benefiting both consumers and producers in these difficult times for the Greeks. In Thesaloniki all 14 communities offer this possibilty for consumers to hand in their shopping list and the Prof and his students arrange for farmers to deliver the goods the next week through the internet. In Athen half of the communities cooperate. The farmers deliver 12 products now. They are going to work according to a new model next year. That will be a good time to spread their model across Europe.