In the greater Paris area, the local CSA network has played a decisive role in developing a strategy and cooperation to promote the establishment of new farmers. With Terre de Liens and two other organisations, they have set up a farm incubator and established an informal platform to secure entries into farming for local organic food production.
Ile de France, the region around Paris, is one of the most densely populated in France. In the early 2000s, rising interest for local quality food has meant a rapid development of AMAPs , the French CSA groups. So much so that AMAPs had more interested consumers than available farmers. In the region, new land is scarce and very expensive. And very few growers are entering farming as large-scale crop farmers dominate the agricultural sector. In this context, the local AMAP network soon had the vision of supporting the establishment of new farmers: by training them, supporting and securing their entries into farming, organising consumers’ solidarity and securing land.
Setting up an incubator farm: Les Champs des Possibles
Since 2006, the local AMAP network has worked on setting up an incubator farm, enabling prospective growers to try out CSA. The opportunity arose in 2009 when Jean-Louis Colas, farmer and board member of the AMAP network, retired. Terre de Liens then bought the 73-hectare farm, rented most of the land and building to a new organic farmer and set aside two hectares which were rented to a newly established incubator farm: Les Champs des Possibles .
This incubator farm provides access to land and equipment, mentoring and legal status to new growers during a trial period . The aim is to help them gain new skills and confidence, test farming practices, build a consumer base of AMAP members and develop their professional network before getting started on their own farm. This is a key dimension to bridging the gap between training and entry into farming for prospective farmers whose training often lacks practical experience.
Over the years, Les Champs des Possibles has developed new trial sites and has expanded its activities. It now offers various options for trial farming: from a few months to three years, with various productions, on the incubator farm site or on existing farms. Since 2009, Les Champs des Possibles has “incubated” 40 prospective farmers and led to the installation of 14 new farmers.
Gaining experience through selling to AMAPs is a strong incentive for many prospective farmers. It provides them with some financial security, as the AMAP system is based on pre-payment of the crop shares. It also fulfils their desire to develop community connections and invent new ways of farming that are embedded in the local community.
Developing a coherent offer to secure entry into farming: Pôle Abiosol
Parallel to this, AMAP, Terre de Liens, the local organic Agriculture Association and Les Champs des Possibles started working more and more closely. They ended up setting up an informal platform to promote entries into farming in the Ile de France area: the Pôle Abiosol.
The Pôle Abiosol consists of practical cooperation between the four organisations to provide advice and support to prospective farmers, from their initial idea all the way to their actual entry into farming. Pôle Abiosol offers:
– Monthly information sessions for prospective farmers: the aim is to describe the regional context, present the support which Pôle Abiosol can offer and discuss participants’ projects.
– Training sessions on both general issues (principles of organic agriculture, land issues in Ile de France) and technical aspects (e.g. crop rotation with legumes, tractor maintenance)
– A 10-day training session “From the initial idea to the actual farm” enabling prospective farmers, particularly those who do not come from a farming background, to explore the various facets of a farm project and to confirm their desire to train and set up as a farmer.
– Informal sessions in cafés, bringing together prospective farmers, newly established farmers and older farmers to facilitate an exchange of experiences.
– Ad hoc, personalised support to answer specific questions, share information (e.g. land opportunities, job offers,) and help prospective farmers to overcome obstacles. Each prospective farmer has a reference person in one of the four organisations.
– Farming experiment in Les Champs des Possibles (see above).
Those activities are jointly organised by all four organisations – each one is in charge of the activities relating to its expertise: the organic association provides training and mentoring on agronomic skills, the AMAP network on distribution systems and community connections; Les Champs des Possibles on trial farming; Terre de Liens on finding and securing land. All activities are offered free of charge, thanks to the public subsidies received by the members of Pôle Abiosol for this programme.
Results so far
Together Pôle Abiosol members promote forms of agroecological farming which are economically sound, socially responsible, respectful of the environment and focussed on food production and community connections. They also innovate and promote new community-supported forms of agriculture and open up debate and action on agriculture and food systems to non-farmers.
Joint training sessions offered to members and volunteers of the four organisations have also contributed to broaden their understanding of the situation and to develop their skills. Many local CSA groups in the region have thus gained specific skills to address land issues. Several have developed interest-free loans or donations to farmers (with money from CSA members or from the CSA association itself) to help them face land problems, and avoid their having to resort to bank loans.
Thanks to the diverse expertise of its members, Pôle Abiosol can offer a very broad and coherent set of activities, which help prospective farmers progress from initial plans to actual farming securing every step of their entry path into farming. Most of them are newcomers to farming, with no family background in agriculture and they are often in the process of changing careers. They need specific training and support which is rarely, if at all, offered by conventional agricultural institutions and policies.
In just a few years, Les Champs des Possibles and Pôle Abiosol have become key players in setting up new farms in Ile de France. Between 2008 and 2015, Pôle Abiosol has directly supported the entry into farming of 60 new farmers in Ile de France. It also increasingly advises local authorities seeking to promote local food systems and to support new farmers. The action of Pôle Abiosol contributes decisively to renewing the generation of farmers in the region, and to developing the offer of local organic food, particularly through AMAPs.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017