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Ecology

A basket of fresh vegetables to save the organic farming: my experience in AMAP

Credit: Ta-Tev

AMAPs exist in almost every city in France. The abbreviation stands for “Association pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne”, which translated from French means the Association for the maintenance of farm agriculture. First amaps appeared in the country in 2000. They allow city dwellers to buy fresh vegetables, bread, eggs, and meat directly from the farmers, and farms get the funds and help they need in return.

Joining an amap starts with signing a contract with a local farmer. Everyone involved wins: having many subscribers helps to ensure the farm’s financial stability during the year, and members get fresh produce weekly – organic vegetables, grown without pesticides.

In Paris, a farmer can work with one, two, or three districts, depending on how many people his harvest can accommodate. In some areas of the city, several amaps coexist, with different farmers in charge of each. I had a chance to be a member of amap in Ile-de-France.

At first, I was skeptical about the proposal to join the amap. I’ve heard a lot about this association, and some of my friends have expressed mixed reviews. Among the inconveniences of this system, people most often remarked on the fact that vegetables need to be picked up regularly, once a week, at the same time. This means that on the evening of the amap meeting, the person has to be there and is forced to plan their life around it. By signing a contract, people also agree to help farmers from time to time: participate in the distribution of vegetables and help during the harvest.

Another disadvantage is the fact that the harvest is not always predictable. Some weeks the farmer may have less vegetables, so subscribers can’t fully depend on getting everything they need from the amap. They might have to buy the necessary products in regular stores, which can be annoying if the family is trying to stick to getting 100% organic produce from the farm and uses it as motivation to join the amap.

Amaps in Paris rarely offer fruit (the variety of crops depends on the farm and its location). One of the important principles of the system is to support the consumption of seasonal products. In the summertime, the farmers will bring tomatoes and cucumbers, while during the winter amap will have different types of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, celery root, and black radish.

After much thought, I finally decided to sign a contract. My main motivation was to support local farming and sustainable agriculture practices.

When I went to the first distribution of vegetables, I was amazed by the number of people supporting this system. The crowd was very diverse: couples with children, older citizens, and young people. I saw a friendly face right away – our neighbor turned out to be one of the members.

After talking with the farmer, I learned that about 40 people are registered in the amap of our district (and this was far from the only amap in the area). The farmer at that time had no more space and even had to refuse some people who wanted to sign up.

I was impressed by the friendly and cheerful atmosphere at the meetings. As it turns out, every week, those charged with distributing the vegetables (a task all members have to take turns on every six months) bring pies, drinks and throw a small party. Some people pick up the vegetables and immediately go home, while others stay to socialize. Participants discuss organic farming, alternative energy production, waste reduction, and supporting local farms. During these evenings, people exchange views and experiences.

After several meetings, I realized that the distribution of vegetables from 7 to 8.30 in the evening falls on the time when the French are normally having dinner. Members were multitasking and using the meetings to socialize and have a meal with friends and like-minded people. At the end of the night, when everyone gets their baskets of vegetables and the dinner is over, distributors can take leftover produce home.

The most abundant times for amaps are summer and fall. During that season, our farmer brought the freshest vegetables: juicy tomatoes, fresh onions, cucumbers, eggplants, zucchini, and fragrant herbs.

Once a year, the most active amap members organize a big meeting, to which all subscribers are invited. They discuss organizational issues and main trends in agriculture, participants vote for innovations and exchange opinions. In addition to these annual meetings, the city’s amap network often hosts conferences and screens documentaries on organic farming.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the amap membership for me was the trips to the farm. Each time it would get together about twenty people. Working on the farm turned out to be a very educational process. On the one hand, I learned a lot about farming and was able to see with my own eyes how it is done in France. On the other hand, during potluck lunches at the farm, when everyone shared something they cooked at home, I was able to meet interesting people from different cultures and parts of society, united by love for the land, desire for a change, and the search for alternatives to the modern consumption system.

Digging in the ground, picking vegetables, having that pleasant tiredness in the evening – it all reminded me of my childhood when I helped my parents in our countryside Russian «dacha». Back then I couldn’t appreciate the pleasure of growing my own vegetables. Working in the garden seemed to me a pointless waste of personal time because everything could be bought in the store. Helping our farmer now, I had the feeling that I, too, make some contribution to the cultivation of vegetables, and even more, a contribution to the development of subsistence farming.

I got a different point of view on local farming. I tried new vegetables, the ones I never bought at the store before since they were unknown to me. I plunged into a world of solidarity not only with farmers but also between amap participants. There was a tradition among the members: those who cannot come for their basket of vegetables can ask someone to pick it up and hold it until the next day. At times, especially in winter, when it is dark and raining outside, it is difficult to motivate yourself to go to the amap for vegetables. But every time, I managed to overcome my laziness and went to a meeting.

I never regretted my decision to join amap. When we moved from Paris, I had to leave the association and now, when I try to grow my own vegetables, I fondly remember this invaluable experience. Thanks to the amap and the people I met there, I have the hope that through the solidarity and responsibility that awakens in each of us as we work together, we can contribute to the better future of our planet. Even if this contribution starts with a simple basket of fresh vegetables.