The peri-urban market gardening is possible!

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Today, most of our fruits and vegetables come from far away, sometimes very far. If the short circuits develop in recent years (as is the case in Lille with our friends in the short circuit , or Talents de ferme , a collective of producers where we often do our shopping of fresh produce, local, and booons! ^^), just look at the supermarket stalls to understand it: in 2015, the average distance traveled by a food product between its place of production and the consumer’s plate is … 2,000 km ! But that was not always the case: before the era of easy transport and cheap (and polluting … we agree), it was necessary to produce closer!

The example of hortillonnages

The hortillonnages is a marshy area east of Amiens, filled – probably in the Gallo-Roman era – to create fields used for market gardening .

For centuries this space has been cultivated – there would have been more than 10,000 hectares of used area! Nearly a thousand hortillons – that’s the name given to market gardeners – worked there in 1906, but today there are only about ten farms in operation – on just 25 hectares – the rest has been transformed into pleasure gardens by private individuals, even second homes.

Due to the specificities of the place, the hortillons have invented all kinds of specialized tools, such as the cornet boat – at the raised and elongated end – whose shape is studied to be able to dock on the plots without damaging the banks, and of which the size – up to 10 meters – allowed them to load up to a ton of fruits or vegetables. The hortillons fed the city of Amiens, in short circuit!

Market gardening in the suburbs of Paris in the 19th century.

It is not only in Amiens that we have grown near cities!

This little book details with great detail how the market gardeners of the last century, and finally the one before now, managed to reconcile cultures that are both respectful of the environment , and hyper-productive on small surfaces, by advocating:

  • The use of warm diapers for early crops, especially with the manure from horses roaming the streets of Paris (yes, now it will be more complicated …)
  • The use of organic materials to fertilize the soil in direct composting on the ground.
  • The diversification of varieties to spread the productions and to obtain a greater biodiversity
  • The practice of mulching Groww you ears!

NB : By clicking on the link, you will be able to download the free version of this small book. For those who find that reading a PDF (a little) poorly scanned is laborious, we find a “kindle” version for a few euros, look for yourself 🙂

The fishing walls.

Very well, but if we cultivated near places of consumption, suddenly, north of the Loire we had to eat cabbages and carrots around the whole year, and apples and pears?

Well no, exactly.

From the 17th century are built in Montreuil, in the suburbs of Paris, the famous fishing walls , to cover at the height of their production in 1870 600 km of linear and provide 17 million fruits to the capital! The culture against the walls of almost 3 meters high and plastered, which protected the trees and guaranteed them softness and maximum sunshine – allowed to produce under the climate of the Paris region varieties of fruits, usually reserved for the mild climates of the south from France.

The production of peaches was supplemented by floral crops – lilacs, daffodils, iris, delphiniums, roses, peonies … – and vineyard and raspberry plantations which provided additional income for arborists – and greater biodiversity at site.

Here again, the advent of rail brought the Rhone Valley closer to the capital and sounded the death knell for the production of peaches in Montreuil – which the Montreux association Les Mûrs à Pêches wants to revive today.

Current initiatives.

Can we go back? Yes a bit. Considering food crops in the city, the inhabitants of what they eat, but also proposing solutions for urban agriculture , is the goal of many initiatives in recent years. We have already spoken about the 
48 hours of urban agriculture that we co-organized in the region – and that we will be happy to see again next spring. One example is Lufa Farm in Montreal, or much closer to us, the Trichon Circular Farm project in Roubaix – but there are too many to mention. In short, are we going?

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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