This blog post was originally published by a student studying abroad in Angers, France. The theme this summer is sustainability and the professors and students are exploring all the ways France is a leader in environmental conservation and sustainability. You can read more about the students’ time in France online at Sustainability in Angers, France.
The French are well known for maintaining a locavore diet. Their farmer’s markets are large, plentiful, and busy. In Angers, there are several farmer’s markets open on Saturday, the largest one being held at the Place Leclerc. In Austin, we have several as well: from Burger Stadium to downtown to Barton Creek Mall. Although farmer’s markets in Austin are significantly less populated than the ones in Angers, they are quickly growing in popularity. Even so, there are differences between the farmer’s markets in Angers and in Austin. Both locations come with advantages and disadvantages, and I want to outline them in order to give perspective on the best ways to organize a farmer’s market.
The French don’t actually call farmer’s markets “farmer’s markets”, they call them “marché en plein air” which translates to outdoor market. This may seem irrelevant, but the more I learn about the farmer’s market system here in France, the more I recognize that there aren’t a lot of farmers… In France, the weekly markets are a mixture of farmers and traders. Kamryn, Jack and I interviewed a woman behind an immense cornucopia of fresh produce at the farmer’s market last Saturday in Angers. We started out by asking where her farm was located, to which she snorted and replied: “I don’t have a farm.” I wasn’t very shocked by her answer because I was pretty sure that bananas, pomegranates, artichokes, avocados, apples, watermelon, cantaloupe, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and the rest of the 35 different types of produce she carried couldn’t have all come from her farm during this season. What was shocking was that she had no farm at all, so what does she trade for the produce? She later explained that she attends a wholesale market in a larger city where she buys all of the produce and resells it in her smaller-city home market. Not just anyone can do this, there are ways that the seller proves legitimacy to the wholesalers, like through a certification process. I’ve done some research and have yet to find any concrete information on how this process works. There’s a very well-known wholesale market outside of Paris that you may have heard of. It’s called the Rungis Market and it’s the biggest wholesale market in the world. At Rungis, 50% of the tonnage in the market is French-made, which translates to 730,000 tons of products made in France. Markets like Rungis are exactly the kind where people come to buy in bulk and resell in their home city or village.
You may be thinking, “who cares if they’re getting products wholesale when they’re made in France?” and you’re right, for the most part. The farmer’s markets still sell produce from other countries, though. Most of the stalls have their produce labeled and it’s usually from regions in France, but every so often you’ll find products labeled “Spain” or “Germany.” Additionally, these products are usually not organic, and if they are, they’ll be labeled as such. Granted, organic standards in France are quite a bit higher than ours in the United States, and their non-organic produce is more like organic produce in the U.S. All of this to say that, the people that frequent the farmer’s markets in Angers may not be living the “go local” way of life the same way that people in Austin are. My experience in farmer’s markets in Austin has always involved networking with the farmer or someone that works for them. The number of products available may be less than in Angers markets, but that’s because it’s organic and local. Don’t get me wrong, the French heavily endorse their local produce and certainly much more than Americans. However, farmer’s markets in Austin have more farmers present than in Angers.
Attending farmer’s markets is a part of the French (and European) lifestyle. Farmer’s markets have historically remained popular in France, and in the U.S they’ve only recently experienced a trending revival. Farmer’s markets in Angers may be less local than we are in Austin, but they are still way more popular. Any time that we go to our farmer’s market in Angers it is bustling and energetic. Farmer’s markets in Austin aren’t always, and they’re much smaller. There may be a lot of reasons for it, but I think that a major difference is space and accessibility. Cities and villages in France have designated spaces that are designed to attract crowds. Attending the farmer’s market in Angers is super convenient. Wherever someone may live, there is sure to be a market nearby. Additionally, almost every French town has a covered market. Typically they’re labeled “les Halles” and people pay for their stalls in these covered markets for more than just one week. Usually, you’ll find butchers from the region, gardeners with local produce, and people from other countries selling delicacies such as olives from Spain. Les Halles tend to carry more locally sourced products. Overall the tradition of outdoor markets in Angers (and all of France) has and will continue to boom, but whether they’ll continue the tradition of supporting local, rural farmers is less certain. To contrast, Austinites are killing the game as far as supporting our locally sourced products goes. Austin farmer’s markets seem to be steadily raking in more consumers and I think that it’s really easy to want to continue supporting local products when you meet the people behind it all right in their stalls. A lot of the farmers even offer tours or volunteer opportunities (like JBG and Richardson Farms) on their property. I love going to the SFC farmer’s market in Austin, but the one nearest to me is a 20-minute car ride away and I don’t always make it on time. As farmer’s markets gain popularity in Austin, I hope that more locations show up in neighborhoods or in nice open spaces (and I am not thinking of a parking lot). We have a great foundation in Austin and if we continue on the path we’re on now I think that we may be able to beat Angers (and the whole of France) at their own game.
Story and photos by Chloë Seminet ’20
Chang, K. (2016, March 08). Behind The Scenes At France’s Rungis Market, The World’s Largest Wholesale Market. Retrieved from https://www.foodrepublic.com/2016/03/08/behind-the-scenes-at-frances-ru…
French markets – outdoor markets in France. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://about-france.com/tourism/french-markets.htm