29 November 2012

Putting the “Farmer” back in Farmers Market: Lessons from Portland to Paris

Post & Photos by Emily Dilling Poulain

I moved to France on a whim in 2005 and have stuck around since then, enjoying the amazing  advantages France offers, such as universal healthcare, an almost free education, and awesome baked goods. While I’ve grown accustomed to living in Paris, one place that never ceases to delight are the city’s open-air markets. Over 60 markets are spread around Paris with several locations in almost every arrondissement.

When I visit a new city, I immediately find out where the farmers market is- they are usually located in a central, pedestrian-friendly part of town and are a great way to get a feel for the city and its locals, which makes for a nice first impression of a new place. This is how I first got to know Paris, discovering new neighborhoods and vegetables while practicing my beginner’s French on chatty vendors.

I have fond memories of doing the same in other cities, wandering down the aisles of outdoor markets in London, Frankfurt, San Francisco, and, of course, Portland. The French have recently taken a particular interest in Portland and I wish they would learn a lesson or two from your locally-sourced market. The truth is, Paris doesn’t really have “Farmers Markets” because there are very few real farmers at their markets. The majority of stands are occupied by vendors who are reselling food they have bought in bulk at the city’s major food source, the Rungis wholesale market.  

There are however a handful of direct vendors that come to markets around the city and sell produce that was grown on their farms. Often these farms are located in the vicinity of Paris, in regions such as Normandy, Brittany, and Picardie. These lush and rainy regions resemble Portland’s infamous weather patterns and consequently we have similar seasonal produce.

At the moment, apples and pears are flooding market stands, accompanied by lovely juices and liqueurs like Calvados and Pommeau. Autumn vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, and squash of all sorts are showing up en masse at the market as well. Lettuce abounds and- if you’re lucky- you might find a modest bunch of kale hidden in the roughage- this adored leafy green is under appreciated and almost totally unknown in France.

All of these vegetables are grown within 50 miles of Paris, yet local produce remains hard to find in Paris markets, as shoppers either opt for imported out-of-season foods or just don’t pay attention to the origin of the fruits and veg, preferring to buy less expensive wholesale food. On my blog, Paris Paysanne, I document where and when shoppers can find local producers. I also include updates on seasonal produce, including recipes given to me from the French growers, both on the blog and on my facebook page.

Supporting local producers is the first step to putting the farmer back in “Farmers Market” and invite you to show your support from abroad by following my Paris Paysanne adventures!