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.