September 18, 2012

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.

Du Sart
Du Sart without ‘à la Ferme’

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.

September 18, 2012

Van De Beukenhof naar Vorselaar + Herentals

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!Beukenhof departure
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. Bavos AardappelhoeveTonight 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.Discussion on Bavos Farm

September 17, 2012

Top tip: don’t topple political monuments

Thurdsay 13th September

The night wild camping among the stunning Calais sand dunes was gorgeous. The horizon stretched out lazily, endlessly, while glancing behind over my shoulder revealed the smooth, flowing arcs of the dunes. The dunes protected our tents from the stiff sea breeze, and in turn they were protected by the roots of sea buckthorn preventing erosion. The sea buckthorn was immediately identifiable by its slim, branching prongs; its hundreds of thorns are swords, arming it to defend its fruit, which hug close to the central stem, safe from humans birds and hungry activists – or so it must have thought. When I was brave enough to trade some scratches for a reach inside to the tempting orange berries, the sweet acid flavour transported me to my childhood, snacking on sugary sour sweets with my schoolfriends. I live away from the coast, so I always look forward to sea buckthorn. Sea buckthorn berries are packed with vitamin C, and hunter gatherers in temperate climates have depended on them to avoid scurvy in the winter months when few other fruits were still available. However, I was delighting in them as a luxury snack along with French bread, artisanal cheese and juicy tomatoes. I could not have had a more relaxing start to the march,

As we met in Calais in the place de l’hotel de ville, we admired beautiful sculptures of EU members’ flags in the shape of sweets. We decided, for the sake of the blog, to pose near the French and EU flags. But I wanted the photo to be more interesting than simply standing and smiling. It was at that fateful moment that I suggested a tug of war between the forces of industrial and peasant agriculture, with the EU sweet in the middle. A promising idea, you may think, but I had forgotten to consider that neither me nor Katie were dressed as a peasant or Cargill director.

With national French media in front of us, I decided to go ahead, miming a tug of war with an exquisite EU statue between us. I can’t change that. The hilariously inadvisable choice had been made.

It was only when I had finished being filmed tugging at a statue of the EU in front of national media that I realised the message could be misinterpreted. Could a viewer be forgiven for possibly contemplating that I was trying to bring down the EU? Flashes of toppling of Saddam Hussein statues in Iraq came before my eyes, along with flashes of Daily Mail columns condemning Charlie Gilmour for a heat-of-the-moment interaction with a historic monument. The headlines crashed around inside my head like timpani drums in 2001: A Space Odyssey: Land Rights Activists Attempt to Topple EU. Paysan Agitators Attempt to Destroy Art. Climate Change Campaigner Attacks Historic EU Monument. Food Growers Seek Destruction of Europe.

It was then that I decided that I might not be a wise choice for the Confederation Paysanne’s media outreach.

Let me hand over the blog to a safer pair of hands.


Friday 14 September

Today I ate like a God, again. The food was loving prepared by local protesters at Heuringhem, resisting a proposal for a factory pig farm to produce 10,000 pigs a year. It is likely to house 359 sows and have a permanent population of 4,000 pigs. At home in the UK, we have a similar proposal in Foston, which has attracted enthusiastic opposition from the Soil Association, CIWF and locals. In the village I visited, Heuringhem, concerns about water pollution, employment for local small-scale farmers and animal welfare were shared at a group meeting. 3000 residents live in the two villages near the proposed factory farm,Heuringhem and Ecques, and the campaign against it has 700 members – almost 25 per cent.

At least 25 per cent of the locals are worried enough by the proposal to fight it, so us Good Food Marchers took courage from the strong local opposition. I thought this could be a battle that the small-scale farmers had a good chance of winning. Possibly small-scale farmers have a bigger challenge in the fight for a PAC paysan, or CAP for small-scale farmers, in which the farmers are up against full-time Brussels lobbyists. Not only do small-scale farmers have fewer representatives, but harvest season is a somewhat challenging moment to leave the farm! As another British cyclist on the tour pointed out, hosting a CAP conference during harvest season means that the only farmers who can attend are those who have either forgotten that they have a farm, or the farmers who have forgotten to plant any crops, or who are content to have a holiday during the only opportunity to harvest their year’s work.

Nevertheless, taking courage from Heuringhem’s resistance to a factory farm, we march in hope of a PAC paysan.


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September 17, 2012

La Good Food March à Lille!

September 17, 2012

Nederlandse Goodfoodmarch in Breda

Vertrek op de Groenen HofVan Esbeek, waar we uitgezwaaid werden door Rene Groenen, naar Hilvarenbeek. Daar kwamen we in een maraton terecht. Het zweet wat we roken was niet van ons dus. Op naar Breda, de pas er goed in. In Breda wisten we eerst niet waar we moesten zijn maar uiteindelijk op de grote markt was een club om ons te ontvangen. Wat speaches op het bordes en folders uitgedeeld. Breda Grote MarketOp naar de Beukenhof in Breda. Daar een rondleiding over het biologisch dynamisch bedrijf door boer Frans.  We hebben een tentenkampje gemaakt en heerlijke spaghetti gegeten. Lekker vroeg naar bed om ons op te laden voor de laatste etappe.

September 16, 2012

Von Libramont über St. Hubert nach Wavreilles

Der nächste Morgen begann trocken und die ersten Sonnenstrahlen zeigten sich am Himmel. Nach wenigen Kilometern machten wir einen kurzen Stopp bei einem Hof, der Weißblaue Belgier (Kühe) im Mastbetrieb hat. Aufgrund einer Genmutation setzten diese Tiere extrem viel Muskeln und wenig Fett an, so dass ihr Fleisch sehr fettarm ist. Gleichzeitig verursacht diese Mutation, dass die Kälber alle per Kaiserschnitt auf die Welt gebracht werden müssen. Der Besuch auf diesem Hof war interessant, verursachte aber sehr gemischte Gefühle, die vor allem die unnatürliche Geburt der Kälber und die großen Massen an Fleisch betrafen, die mit dieser Rasse produziert werden. Auf diesem Hof stießen noch zwei Frauen mit drei Kindern in Anhängern zu uns und so war unser Grüppchen schon wieder gewachsen. Unser jüngster Mitfaher ist erst 2 Monate alt!

Mittags hatten wir der Küche frei gegeben und freuten uns auf echte belgische Pommes Frites mit vielen verschiedenen Saucen. Wir machten Pause in St. Hubert und dort erwies sich die Suche nach einer Friterie als schwieriger als gedacht. Irgendwann wurden wir aber fündig, die Pommes Frites waren allerdings nur mittelmäßig. Morgen wartet glücklicherweise wieder unsere Küche auf uns!

Nach der Mittagspause fuhren wir weiter über kleine Straßen und erreichten bald einen kleinen Wald mit einer wunderschönen langen Abfahrt hinunter an einen Fluss. Natürlich mussten wir diese Höhenmeter auf der anderen Seite wieder hoch, belohnten uns oben dann aber mit einem Kaffee. Danach erreichten wir bald Wavreilles, ein kleines Dorf, in der Nähe von Rochefort, wo wir auf dem Milch-Hof von Claudie und Katja mit einer Fanfare und großem Applaus empfangen wurden. Das Essen war schon fertig und nach und nach kamen immer mehr Gäste, die alle etwas zu essen mitbrachten. Jetzt reichen unsere Vorräte bis Brüssel! Später kamen sogar der Bürgermeister und die kommunale Verantwortliche für Landwirtschaft. Noch lange saßen wir zusammen und aßen und tranken.

September 16, 2012

Von Habay-la-Vieille nach Libramont

Der Morgen begann nach dem Frühstück mit einer ausführlichen Spülaktion um das Geschirr von unserem großen Kochen in Luxemburg zu säubern. Anschließend bekamen wir eine Führung über den Hof. Auf der Weide standen 26 verschieden große, verschieden farbige, langhaarige und kurzhaarige Esel und ließen sich von uns ausgiebig durchkraulen. Anschließend besuchten wir die Gemüsegärten des Hofs und lernten die Arbeit dort kennen.
Danach ging es los! Auf ruhigen Nebenstraßen fuhren wir berghoch und bergrunter durch die Ausläufer der Ardennen. Der Himmel war bewölkt und es war merklich kälter als gestern. Mittags setzte dann noch leichter Nieselregen ein. Daher freuten wir uns besonders als wir mittags bei dem kleinen Hof von Roland ankamen. Warmes Essen und ein knisternder Holzofen warteten auf uns. Nachdem wir am Ende unserer langen Mittagspause Rolands Pferde mit ihm gemeinsam auf die Weide gebracht hatten, ging es weiter auf kleinen Straßen nach Libramont, wo wir die Nacht in einem Fußballclub verbrachten. Leider nicht, wie zunächst angenommen, in der Turnhalle, sondern in den Umkleidekabinen. Das war mal etwas Neues – wenigstens aber trocken und warm!

September 16, 2012

Helsinki joins the Good Food March 19.9.2012

Suomessa varustaudutaan parhaillaan liittymään Hyvän Ruoan Marssiin Helsingissä Narinkkatorilta Maalaistentorille ja osoittamaan tukea Brysseliin saapuvaa Euroopan laajuista Good Food Marchia. Banderollit on valmiina ja bussit täyttymässä osallistujista eri puolilta Suomea, Maalaistentori-tapahtumassa puhutaan asiaa, bändit soittaa ja hyvää ruokaa on saatavana avoimella City -piknikillä ja yhteisgrillitapahtumassa konkreettisella esimerkillä siitä, mitä kuluttajat ja maanviljelijät vaativat!

In Finland in Helsinki farmers and consumers are preparing to join and support the Europeanwide Good Food March that arrives on 19.9.2012 to Brussels. We march from Narinkkatori Square to Maalaistentori -Farmers Market. Banderolles are painted  few weeks ago and buses are filling up around Finland to bring marchers to Helsinki to join the tractors and farmers. In Maalaistentori -Farmers Market happening the speeches are given, bands are playing and good food is available for open City Pick-Nick and BBQ to show what both consumers and farmers are demanding for!

September 16, 2012

Good Food March in Tiel, Vught and Esbeek

On the wayOn a rainy friday with lots of headwind, especially on the dikes, we finally arrived at Tjunderij De Guit, a new built property with their own structure and the open mind to try new things (e.g. composting straw and liquid manure). Yesterday we started there again towards “De Groenen Hof” in Esbeek.

Ray of hope: pigs on pastureOn the way we came along huge fields without structural elements but we were told, that ten or twenty years ago, there were a lot of small farms with a diverse landscape, that had to leave for the agroindustry. But there was also a happy moment, when we saw a pasture with lucky pigs on it. The owners want to show, that we don’t need the megastables at all. And the pigs are thinking the same way.

Arrival on De Groenen Hof in EsbeekAfter the Arrival in Esbeek we were shown the structure and way of working on “De Groenen Hof”. As they produce seeds vor different vegetables and they are also breeding their own varieties of onion and carrots, another EU-policy-issue came up, that is highly on stake at the moment: the revision of the legislative on seed trade and seed ownership. We were told, that it is not looking good at the moment.

The day ended in an intensiv discussion about the future of food policy, our chances to make it better and the challanges, we are facing, like the food industry.

We are cycling for a better CAP Reform, even more with headwind. Brussels – we are coming!

September 14, 2012

Peasants in search of Land!

After an eventful start to our voyage in Calais we headed off across the countryside towards Saint Omer.

One of our cycling companions, Martin lives and work the land at a small holding close to our planned route so we detour to visit his wonderful abode.

Flying the flag ‘Paysans enquete de terre!’ (Peasants in search of land!) he explained how he came to live there. The typical French farmstead had been a stop on a ‘cyclotour’ he made with a group of young people who want to get on the land.  The challenges they face are high land prices (particularly due to speculation), the lack of availability of small pockets of land in the area, diffficulty getting planning to live on their farms and the need for specific agricultural training (required in France in order to access social services).


Martin now lives there and grows vegetables for his keep, but is still on the hunt for his own pocket of land and is passionate about changing the situation for other young people across Europe!

He is joining us to Brussels to make his message loud and clear! There are thousands of young people and potential new entrants to farming all across Europe. The CAP must support them to make this important step to help create a future of good food and farming!