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Where have all the Parisian farmers gone?

Paris Paysanne is a blog and soon-to-be book that's renewing interest in the culinary capital's declining marchés en plein air and local farmers.

As so many Americans seem to be learning after years of shopping at big-box industrial supermarkets, open-air food markets are more than just a place to buy the week’s groceries. They serve as a hub of activity and a way to invest in one's community by supporting local farmers. When you visit or live in a place that’s not where you’re from, markets can also be instructive: they can teach you about the value that a city puts on shopping for, preparing, and most importantly, enjoying food.

As an American who has lived in Paris for the past 8 years, I have come to embrace the best of both my native and adopted homeland. I founded the blogging project Paris Paysanne in 2010, after realizing that little was being done to address the increasing industrialization of food in France, from neighborhood markets closing to the quickly spreading supermarket chains. I wanted it to provide a much needed gateway into the rich world of farmers at Paris markets, as well as offer a guide to finding and supporting local, independent producers.

Given the strong culinary tradition that’s synonymous with French culture, one might assume that shopping at the open-air market is de rigeur for locals in Paris. In fact, Parisians have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of farmers present at their weekly marchés. Speak with any farmer at a neighborhood market and they will tell you stories of how as little as 10 years ago, there were twice as many local farmers in attendance at the market; now you are lucky to find even one.

A growing presence of imported, industrial food and the replacement of the open-air market by the omnipresent hypermarché are in part to blame for the farmers losing their place at what was once the original outpost for fresh food and vegetables. My appreciation of the creativity and momentum of the ‘eat local’ movement in the U.S. paired with my love for France and its terroir led me to combine my expat point of view with my love of exploring Paris and its markets.

Whether it’s writing about a new-to-me ingredient like salsify or sorrel or sharing rock star farmer Joël Thiebault's latest harvest, the site aims to generate renewed interest in the city's markets, with an emphasis on finding and supporting the local producers within those markets. Paris Paysanne also celebrates and preserves France's culinary history by illuminating how to make some of the country’s most-loved dishes the old fashioned way—choucroute garnie, anyone?

Perhaps most usefully, I’ve also created a tool that I wish I had 8 years ago: a map of Paris' markets including the local farmers who sell at each one, which helps visitors and regular shoppers alike to easily locate their nearest market and farmer, facilitating connections being made between the city's residents and the people who grow their food.

In 2014, I will be focusing on compiling my research over the years into a guide book for the French, francophiles, and culinary travellers alike interested in enjoying the best food and natural wine that Paris has to offer, while supporting its dedicated artisans and producers. While France may be known worldwide for its strong cultural identity, its culinary and agricultural tradition are still in peril due to the industrialized food industry. I created Paris Paysanne with the hope of breathing new life into one of France’s oldest past-times: going to the market.

Images courtesy of Paris Paysanne

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