Perpignan market musing

perpignan market

Perpignan market on a Saturday morning is a delightful place. It is in the beautiful  Place de la Republique, a large open square full of bars and restaurants. The stand holders are a mix of organic producers, organic bakers, honey makers, cheese makers and a bunch of vegetable, charcuterie, and cheese resellers, and of course our organic herbs are there. Those of us who don’t sell much before 10, honey, seafood, cheese and plants, have an apperro organised by the wonderful cheese reseller Patric. Red wine and freshly grilled gambas along with pate and cheese at 8.30 in the morning may not be to the taste of everyone but I love it. There is a second apperro at 11.30 for the vegetable sellers and bakers.

There is a friendly rapport between most of the stand holders, with just a few miserable vegetable resellers, who keep their distance. I think they are convinced organic producers are mildly deranged, they are probably not mistaken.

I have a wonderful bunch of clients, ranging from students to mad old girls. I usually start yabbering at 9am and barely draw breath until about 1.30.  A friend wheels by every week to collect his bottle tops from me, apparently for every two tons of plastic bottle top the producers buy a new wheel chair. I had a vision of my mate living in an apartment stuffed with plastic bags full of bottle tops but it turns out there is a collection point at the foot of his building.

A couple of events recently have been a bit disturbing. Firstly there is the case of my “Little Mistress”. Every two weeks this woman comes to our market in her totally illegal bashed up car. She sets up her speaker and microphone and proceeds to sing, solidly, for 4 and half hours. She is not busking, she does not solicit money, she is simply singing for her pleasure and allegedly ours. She is known as my Petite maitresse by my mates because she usually sets up close to my stand and gets me to lift up her speaker and place it on its stand. Now there are a few issues with her, not least is that she can’t really sing, and the longer she goes on the worse it gets. This fact is not helped by her tendency to turn her loudspeakers up a bit too loud. Four hours into this racket your ears do start to ring and at times you lose the will to live.

But live and let live, she has been in the market as long as I have been, which is now six years. Yes there have been a few incidents, she does get shouted at if she is too loud. She does turn her music down if asked politely. She has rushed off in tears to call her Mum if the request is not so polite, which has happened a few time.

Recently we have a new organic vegetable producer/reseller that has migrated over from the Place Belgique market. She has taken real exception to our singer, about three weeks ago she started screaming at her. She rounded up our local Frontists, a couple of over muscled under brained bullies, and between them they decided to make the singer’s life unpleasant. Constantly shouting at her, reducing her to tears, playing with her mixing kit, and generally bad mouthing her to their clients, fellow stand holders as well as the guys from the Mayor’ office responsible for our market.

And now they have got their way, our singer has been thrown out the market.A great victory that they are very proud of.

The problem is the market is a poorer place for all their bullying. A fragile old woman has been needlessly upset, yes she was a pain but she was our pain. If we can’t find a place to support a mentally unstable person who got immense pleasure from singing once every two weeks then we have lost a bit of our humanity.

The second event that pissed me off a bit was a new organic cheese producer. They came down last week with their paper work and were reluctantly admitted. I suggested to the man from the Mayor’s office that they could go next to me, after a bit of huffing and puffing he agreed.

His partner came down again yesterday, and, after numerous phone calls between the Perpignan officials, she was turned away. So she had come down all the way from Soulage, a village even more remote than us, only to be told to await proper authorization. This is the first time I have seen a seller turned away when there are places available. Yes I have seen people turned away from markets before. The usual reasons are not unreasonable, either they do not have the correct paper work, company details and insurance, or there simply are not any free spaces.

One of the fore mention muscled morons, who happens to be a cheese reseller was quick to get in with the officials to try and ensure that the producer was permanently turned away. Some of his arguments were not unreasonable, he sells cheese, Patric sells cheese, the Italian stand and the Spanish Catalans also sell cheese, Will sells cheese from his truck, and we have two other organic cheese makers, there are two cheese shops just off the square and a mini market a few streets down also has a cheese seller. Just how much cheese do the people of Perpignan eat?  Well yes but the difference is that these were producers that were turned away, from a producers market. If we need to start limiting the number of cheese sellers lets start by looking at the poor quality cheese resellers, particularly those that will leave our market and do the beach markets once the tourist season starts.

Now that I have that our of my system I can get back to enjoying my Saturday mornings in Perpignan, and the last glass of rose I have with Janet, George and Patric at the end of the morning’s work.


French Organic Market 2016

The French organic retail market has passed the 7 billion euro mark in 2016, according to the annual Agence bio, a clear 20% growth year on year compared to 2015.

The annual Baromètre Agence BIO / CSA survey indicates that nearly 9 out of 10 people, 89%, have bought an organic product in the last twelve months, with 69% buying organic products at least once a month, and a hard core of 15% who use organic products every day. This 15% is a huge 50% increase from the 19% in the same survey in 2015.

After a year of headlines about the on-going crisis in the French agricultural sector, and with avian flu gripping the country the Baromètre Agence BIO / CSA survey revealed that over 82% of the French think it is important to continue the development of the organic agriculture sector, and 83% of those surveyed saying that they have a high level of confidence in organic certified products.

When questioned about their understanding of general role of organic products and products. The strongest impact stated was environmental, with 92% believing that organic agriculture is better for the environment that industrial farming techniques, 89% believing that organic produce are more ‘natural’ than those that use synthetic chemicals, 88% saying that they think organic products are better for your health, with 80% believing that organic products guard their nutritional qualities better than industrial products, 70% agree that organic products simply taste better.

The general understanding of exactly the organic regulatory regime has also improved. 91% of those surveyed knew that Genetically Modified organisms are banned under organic regulations, and 71% were aware that colorants and artificial flavoring are also taboo. The fact that organic certification means followed strict procedures with at least one annual control by the certification body was also known to 82% of those questioned. 87% also were aware that organic rules ensure a higher decree of animal welfare and a better quality of animal feed.

Motivation of French Organic Consumers

When questioned about their motivation in buying organic as usual the belief that organic products are better for your health headed the list, 66%, good for the environment, 58%, better quality, tastes better, 56%, that organic products are safer/less likely to be contaminated, with 28% quoting animal welfare as their driving motivation.

What they buy

What people buy has not changes much year in year out, even while the French organic market grows. Fruit and vegetables continue as the largest category, followed by milk and it’s derivatives, yogurt, butter and cheese, organic eggs, and in fourth place general groceries such as pasta, rice, with meat coming in fifth. This is no real surprise as it also reflects those categories with the least organic premium in the lead, with the highest premium coming last. The strict organic rules in animal density and fodder regulations will always ensure that there remains a large price difference between, for example a cage raised, hormone fed chicken, and an organic, free range alternative.

Where they buy

The French organic retail market continues to be dominated by the large and medium sized retail operators. Specialist organic shops, while growing, we now have both a Bio Coop and a Vie Claire in little old Lezignan Corbieres, still are frequented by 31% of organic consumers as opposed to 80% who buy their organic produce from the big boys. Markets, 28%, and artisans such as organic bakers, 41% and farm gate sales, 18% play a small but important role.

Eating organic produce outside of the home has also seen a small explosion. Local government , mainly Departmental and Municipal, initiatives have seen a rapid growth in organic food being used in workplace canteens, schools and colleges, retirement homes and state and trade union run holiday camps.

The European Organic Market

According to research done by Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and the Agricultural Market Information Company (AMI) in association with IFOAM EU. The EU wide organic market in 2014 represented just over 26 billion euros, lead by Germany, France comes in second place ahead of the UK.

For the full IFOAM second edition of Organic in Europe: Prospects and Developments 2016. (PDF) can be downloaded free at

For more information on the Baromètre Agence BIO / CSA survey you can see the headlines at

and download the entire report in PDF form here

Lezignan Corbieres market musing

Going to the Lezignan Corbieres market for the past three years has got me musing about the changing nature of markets and town centres.marche

Public markets and town centres have taken a huge hit over the past 50 years. It all really started with the spread of that beastlie energy gobler- the domestic fridge. Perishable and fragile foods no longer had to be bought on a daily basis. A weekly shop could be kept in good condition in the home. Profiting on the spread of the fridge the idea of a single stop shop for all the home’s needs came into it’s own, the super market was born. As it is difficult to carry a week’s shopping parking, not often found in plenty in town centres, became a necessity. So the supermarkets moved out of town centres onto the ring roads where land was cheap and access by car easier.

Markets struggled on while the town centres in which they were traditionally held slowly died, local shops slowly close down unable to compete with the single mass buying power of the large supermarket chains. The character of town centres and indeed town life changed.

The change is not just economic but social as well. Thriving town centres and their markets play an important part in fixing the social glue that hold communities together, it is not just about talking to producers and resellers who understand their wares and produce, they are also meeting points to catch up with friends and neighbours. A brief hello over a charged trolly in Tesco’s is not the same as a good gossip over a cup of java or pint in a local tea shop or pub. Not that there are many tea shops left, just loads of franchised coffee chains.

The empty town centres of traditional market towns are sad reflections of the shift in consumer patterns. Thirsk town centre where I grew up is a ghost of its former self, the hand full of shops and market stand holders is a sad memory of the bustling chaos that was my happy youthful memories.

I was reminded of the changes I have seen in Thirsk a couple of weeks ago in Lezignan Corbieres market. I arrived as usual at 6.30am to find my spot covered in blood, apparently there had been an altercation between a group of lads and a kid, the kid ended up the worse for the encounter, upon finding out what happened to his son the father, I was told, came into town and stabbed three of the group. Lezignan Corbieres, when we arrived in 1999, had one friendly shabby old Champion and a badly run, dirty Intermarche. We now had a Lidl, Aldi, Dea, Netto three new ring road shopping centres and a virtually dead town centre. More and more of the local businesses are closing up, some taking space in the commercial centres but increasingly just giving up as sons and daughters have no wish to take over, or revenues have dropped off to such a low level that the business is no longer sustainable. Evenings are apparently a tad hazardous at times, while official business is on the decline unofficial tobacco sales and heavier drugs are becoming more open and bring with them the associated turf disputes.

Some of my more elderly clients tell me they leave the house rarely, to visit the doctor (Nothing bar a nuclear war, or rain, will stop the French confirming their deeply held belief that a painful and unusual illness is just around the corner) and to come down for the market. On Wednesday’s market day they can combine buying their veg with discussing with friends in minute detail their latest terrible symptoms and show off the small haversack of various medicines the Doctor has prescribed in perfect security. We stand holders have a vested interest in a safe market place.

The irony is of course is that while the town centre is slowly decaying the town itself is rapidly expanding, as well as the new commercial zones, an extension of the college, the new lycee, the building of a new media centre the walled bungalow lotissements are reaching out into the vines at an amazing rate. When we arrived back in 1999 Lezignan Corbiere had 8, 266 residents, by 2012 they had swollen to 10,866 according to  Lezignan Corberes Wikipedia page so I reckon they will have passed the 12,000 mark and be racing towards the 13,000 record in the near future

The political response has been muted, the new Socialist/Communist administration as well as holding off a resurgent Front Nationale were elected on a programme of town regeneration have got it half right, the new lycee being built will help a little, the plans to re furnish some of the centre will have some benefits if they are properly instituted. One great initiative was the launch of the Lezignan Corbieres local producers market on Saturday, Wednesday’s market will remain the largest but it is great to see some support for local farmers and an acknowledgement that producing and re selling are different activities. The former creates local sustainability, employment and keep money local; the latter exports money to distant suppliers and does little to create a vibrant local economy.

Right rant over time to sort the plants out for the market in Lezignan Corbieres tomorrow

More intelligent people than me at the new economics foundation have done a lot of work on revitalising local economies- Clone Town Britain is definitely worth a read.