Cutting out the middleman
Vegetables direct from producer to consumer
Producers and consumers are getting together to find ways to cut out the middleman. For some, this reduces distributers’ margins, and for others it means guaranteed quality thanks to maximum traceability, all at a lower cost. From picking your own produce to buying an AMAP* basket, we review the details of the good practices devised for buying “direct”.
In the Vosges, in Hennezel, the Briseverre farm welcomes its customers by giving them an empty bucket for them to fill with strawberries, raspberries or blueberries, depending on the season. “Rows 12 and 14 for blueberries. For redcurrants, same rows but go right to the top.” And there they go, the Sunday pickers, on a family outing with grandmothers and small children, bucket in hand, ready to pick enough blueberries to keep them in jam for the winter. On the way back, with their buckets full, they have to get them weighed. “With 3 buckets of 4 kilos of fruit, I’ve got quite enough for jam, 2 cakes, and some left just to eat as they are…” says Geraldine, who comes here on holiday every year. Fruit picking is an opportunity for a family excursion into “nature”, but also a really economical way to do your shopping, because if the farm also sells picked fruit, the price is not the same. One kilo of fruit you picked yourself will cost around 3 euros; blueberries put into punnets by the producer are closer to 6 euros; while the price per kilo in supermarkets is nearly 20 euros! But it’s impossible to do your daily shopping by travelling all over France from one pick-your-own farm to the next.
A few years ago, AMAP* baskets appeared, in the form of a mutual commitment between fruit and vegetable producers and their customers. The latter committed to buying part of the harvest, which enabled the farmers to adapt their produce, avoiding waste and being confident that their products would sell. For the customers, it is an unfailing assurance of traceability and remarkable quality. The trust relationship that is established means that producers can sell to “consumer agents”, customers who are committed when it comes to purchasing, and cooking, uniquely seasonal products. This means they will sometimes go looking, week after week, for similar baskets: squash, squash and more squash in winter or huge quantities of salads in the spring. This means customers have to cook what has been produced and not come up with a recipe before going out to buy the ingredients. This way, we reproduce the rural system of seasonal consumption which is almost exclusive to your own kitchen garden. However, there are a few constraints which can be annoying: the commitment to buying the basket is annual and you must come every week to collect your 5 or 10 kg of fruit and vegetables. But what a joy to cook with certified organic products or products from controlled farming with maximum freshness!
To cut out the middleman without having to pick their own food or make a commitment for the whole year, consumers do their shopping at markets. But on city squares, producers are rare. Here, there are more resellers from market gardens, who themselves buy their vegetables from wholesalers. It is difficult for customers to find a small, monoculture farmer who spends the entire morning selling his cheap melons, because for him, it is more profitable to spend time working on production and selling in bulk.
Groups have therefore decided to get together to develop “farmers markets” which are committed to offering only products which come directly and exclusively from the producers. The Chambers of Agriculture are implementing a project for “local farmers’ markets”, which even have their own logo and a business charter. This initiative has members from 29 departments and has opened 370 markets in France. This means that farmers have the opportunity to sell their products in a setting which guarantees the quality of participants and, because of this, attracts a large number of customers who know that a market guaranteed to “cut out the middleman” is offered near them.
This is good news for everyone who loves buying their vegetables from the people who grow them!
* AMAP: Association pour le maintien de l’agriculture paysanne (Association for the Maintenance of Family Farming)