In France, urban agriculture and community co-op grows
A food sustainability organization in the UK has spread its philosophy of sharing and making food accessible in 25 countries. In France, the idea has become popular with projects in more than 300 municipalities in the country.
In France, Incredible Edible is self-described as a movement of “shared abundance.” The idea is simple: people collectively plant and take care of food gardens in public areas so the food produced can be freely accessible for everyone.
Initially started in 2008 in Todmorden, United Kingdom, the movement has spread to 25 countries and there are more than 450 projects. But it is in France where the idea has been the most successful: there are now initiatives in more than 300 municipalities across the country.
In Albi, a town of 50,000 inhabitants in the south of France, resident Henri Bureau liked the idea and started planting food in his front yard. Despite the explicit “food to share” signs in his yard, his first attempt at sharing food with his neighbors didn’t get any response. In February 2013, he contacted a local group of activists who needed someone to start their urban agriculture project. With twelve more people to back him up, he could officially launch the movement and his second attempt got a lot of media coverage.
Although, at that time, the city didn’t allow residents to garden in public areas, places to grow food were abundant. Many owners of private allotments contacted Bureau to make public edible gardens. Soon after, he partnered with an university to establish a permaculture project on the campus and the municipality provided gardening tools and compost.
Later on, Bureau installed a Keyhole garden (raised-bed garden in the shape of a keyhole), in the public space of a design school.
“We initially had a low response from the public, but over time, more and more people came to pick up herbs and vegetables from our gardens,” Bureau says.
Today, the food sharing movement in Albi is made up 160 participants—only 50 are active, however, while 12 of the participants are strongly committed. On the financial side, Bureau has obtained small public and private grants to help him to pay for plants and gardening materials.
Also, the government of the municipality of Albi recently passed a law, allowing citizens to grow food on public lawns. For Bureau, this gives a whole new perspective for the coming season since it will make it easier for every single citizen to participate.
“If 40 people work as much as I do,” he says, “we can feed the whole town.”