Martin is a man on a mission – to bring the fresh produce of the countryside into the heart of the city.
Four years ago this agricultural engineer set up a sort of farmer’s market that comes to you. You order your seasonal fruit and veg on the internet, and then Martin gets them straight from the strictly all-organic producers, and delivers them to an outlet near you, bypassing the traditional retail network of grocers and supermarkets.
“Organic agriculture, as opposed to conventional farming, nourishes the soil to nourish the plant, instead of using fertilisers and pesticides to protect the plant from disease,” says Martin Deslandres.
Martin is a vital link in a novel production chain that is being encouraged by the Rhone-Alpes region in France to stimulate the “social economy” and incomes for the rural poor.
“My role is that of an intermediary, organising the links between producers and consumers, between supply and demand; we are short-circuiting the supply chain in fact, bringing the customer and farmer closer together,” he says.
It is making it easier to get hold of fresher, seasonal products grown locally, and Martin is constantly emphasising this checklist of priorities wherever he goes on his regular visits to suppliers:
“I’m trying to deliver a product that’s as fresh as possible. Lettuce that are delivered this afternoon will have been cut this morning. We can be price-competitive because even if we are perhaps 15 or 20 percent more expensive, people factor in the advantages of having a quality product.”
Apart from fruits and vegetables Martin also sells dairy products, beef, and bread, collected still warm and fragrant from a baker who also grows his own wheat.
“We produce our own wheat. We sow, harvest and mill it, bake bread and cakes, and market them. We try to control every step of the production process. Organic farmers are happy farmers,” claims Gilles Sauzion.
Typically Martin’s suppliers are family businesses, some with a long experience of organic agriculture. For one who farmer went organic more than 30 years ago it was an obvious choice, as Georges Radisson saw the damage caused by traditional methods:
“Intensive farming leads to sterile soil, erosion, and we try to squeeze more and more out of the same area, or with mechanisation extend intensive agriculture everywhere. We rip up hedges, impovrishing the organic content of soils which become more and more mineral, leading to plant diseases.”
Once Martin has been round all his suppliers he boxes up the orders in his workshop and heads off into the city.
But once there he does not drop the orders off in the shops you might expect. He knows his consumers and their other interests well. In Lyon, France’s second city, he has 20 drop-off points including a cycle shop, where the orders made at the start of the week on the web can be collected. And he is often on hand to say hello, re-enforcing the link between the countryside and city:
“I try to be as sincere as possible. The producers put their hearts into their work, and I try and pass that on.”
Mother-of-three Séverine admits her shopping trolly sometimes includes non-organic products, but she appreciates the chance to meet the producers and be kept up to date about their activities, even the weather. The children love it.
“I think it’s important to maintain links with nature, with each season’s offerings. It keeps us connected with what’s grown nearby. I’ve realised it’s not that much more expensive than buying stuff from a supermarket which might have come from the other side of the world on a plane, burning aviation fuel, and which has lost all its vitamins by the time it gets to us,” she says.
And of course, food this good is rarely left on the side of the plate to be thrown away..