Nature Parks and National Parks
France, as many other countries, has Nature Parks and National Parks. What is the difference? At international level the IUCN distinguishes different levels for the nature conservation parks. At the highest level of conservation we find the National Parks. In these parks humans often do not have (full) access. Nature parks have a lower level of nature conservation and are often found in inhabited and cultivated areas, combined with agricultural and economic activity. If you want to learn more about this then also check the Europarc Federation. France has 10 National Parks, including maritime parks for the costal conservation, which amounts to about 8% of the total territory (also including the so called buffer zones of these parks). Furthermore, France has 48 Nature Parks, of which the Luberon in the Provence.
I stayed in a nice gite with a marvellous view in the beautiful little village of La Bastidonne – dating from the early 13th century with only 750 souls. Thanks to contacts with the local experts: Jacques Decuignières, Mylène Maurel, and Annouk Arzoumanian, advisor on CSR with SME’s, I was able to learn more about a large variety of sustainable activities in the Park and meet many interesting people.
Here is a taste of the ‘bio-dynamics’ in the Luberon.
Mylène Maurel, responsible for agriculture and tourism at the Regional Park, implemented the concept of ‘de la ferme à ta cantine’ – ‘from the farm to your plate’. This means that public canteens in the Haute-Provence and Luberon will use local, seasonal and biological, etc. farm products. The Luberon counts for a total of 70 towns (‘communes’), of which 60 have a school cantine, and of which 50 have their own cooking staff. Currently 30 towns participate in the project. The goal is to reach 100% of the canteens and provide children and others with healthy meals. Furthermore, it facilitates ‘short circuits’ between producers and consumers, and it is a way to preserve local knowledge and ‘savoir faire’. “Through our locally produced food we also (re)create a direct link with nature. This is an important aspect in the education of our children”, adds Mylène Maurel.
This project launched in January 2010, at the impulse of the Park and with support of the EU LEADER II programme, is a partnership between local politicians, canteens, teachers, and different agricultural structures of the Haute Provence. Mylène explains that, apart from bringing together the different partners, raising awareness and organising logistics and practical aspects, this also implies training the cooking staff on how to use these products and transmit and exchange a variety of original recipes. In some case some resistance had to be overcome. Also cooks can have less sustainable habits! As the administrative structures (Council, etc.) of the Park also consist of (elected) representatives of the local communities and towns, it is easier to get political support and create ownership for these kinds of projects.
Quite a different story is that of the association La Bourguette. A socio-medical centre created in 1973 by the parents of autistic children in the region. Autism affects more than 80.000 people alone in France. Spread over six different sites with about 150 residents and 200 staff this organisation creates a human approach to autism and helps the residents to develop their own skills in a supportive and stimulating environment. Part of this project is an organic farm called Le Grand Réal. It provides supported jobs for 39 autists, the so called ‘Etablissemennt Spécialisé d’Aide par le Travail’. I was kindly guided around by the assistant director Jacques Arutunian. This farm produces different products and creates a variety of activities for the residents. These residents at this farm are official employees and earn a salary (the centre also receives governmental support through different schemes).
The farm has about 40 goats, a ceramic atelier, grows vegetables, and produces annually 100 tons of olive oil. Furthermore, the centre has a shop where its products, including the ceramics and art, are sold to the public, and has a restaurant, which is quite renowned in the region.
Jacques Arutunian mentions that La Bourguette is also in the process of creating an adopted approach for their older residents; the oldest is in his late 50-ties now. The autist-employees also live at the farm, of course with a 24-hour psychological and medical support. One of the cooks (staff member) told me how extremely satisfying it is to work with them. “When you arrive in the morning in a bad mood, or feel stressed, they make your day with their happy smiles!” While eating in the restaurant, with excellent food, I witnessed first-hand their dedication at work and enjoyment while serving the clients.
Domaines des Perpetus
Being in France an example of a vineyard and olive oil production may not lack! The domain Perpetus – ‘à perpète’ in French means ‘far away from everything’, is just outside the town La Bastidonne. Christine Queirel, is taking over the farm of 40 hectares of vineyards from her father, although he is still very active at the farm. The farm is organic since 4 years (Ecocert). The main reason to do this was the poor soil quality. The transition of soil and production towards organic takes times (soil quality increases only over the years) and means an initial decrease in productivity compared to the previous non-organic. But Christine is fine with that as she still executes her profession as an architect. The vineyard currently produces annually about 5000 bottles per hectare. Most of the wine is sold in bulk (‘en vrac’). However, about 5 to 6 hectares is sold in their shop under their own name Perpetus. She explains that customers often underestimate the costs involved in organic products. You need to buy bottles, labels, packaging, etc. as well as paying different taxes. Other organic producers of yogurts and fresh cheese told me the same. Currently they also cultivate 6 hectares with 2300 olive trees.
Apart from the olive oil, Christine also wishes to develop olive oil tapenades. “I notice that it works well in a shop to have different products, clients appreciate this, but I first need to learn the how to make good tapenades”, adds Christine with a smile, already imagining the final outcome!
Economie sociale et solidaire
Under the title ‘Agriculture and Culture’ – which have in common ‘produire and nourrire’, creating and nourishing, I attended an evening of exchange between different projects in the social economy and, what would be called in English, social entrepreneurship. The variety is inspirational, just to give you an idea:
- ‘épicerie ambulante’, in rural and not densely populated areas not many shops are around, so mobile options are a useful solution;
- creation of an ‘AMAP Culturelle’; similar to the AMAP with organic products; the weekly baskets with seasonal vegies and fruits, but in this case people buy their basket of local cultural productions, concerts, exhibitions etc.;
- revitalisation of agricultural and organic waste of restaurants with the association ‘Résilience’,
- alternative money system ‘La Roue’ the wheel, with the same letters as the Euro, which will be connected at a later stage to the work of ‘Résilience’;
- and last but not least the project ‘Boucau’. Young entrepreneurs in Marseille started the transformation of fruits and vegies, coming from either overproduction from organic farms or left-overs from AMAP’s, local organic shops, etc. They bought a truck that is equipped to do the transformation into fruits and vegies into candid fruits, vegetables in vinegar, tomato sauce, dried fruits, etc. With the truck they pick up the left overs at the farm, so no need for the farmers to worry about transport. The farmers receive a part of the profit. The products are sold at festivals (very popular in France) and concerts where thousands of young people come.
The goal of Boucau is multiple:
- avoid waste of eatable fruits and vegetables and turn it into other forms of food, that also can be kept for a longer time,
- provide extra income to farmers of products that would otherwise have been lost anyway.
- raise awareness with especially young (urbans) on healthy food and this often surprising applications and use of fruits and vegies,
It strikes me how active life is in the south of France, even in small villages. There are lots of initiatives, exchange, ‘convivialité’, and of course many cultural events, even more so in summer!
All these good products and the work of the people behind it are worth a toast !