The Ins and Outs of Local Market Produce in Paris

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The Ins and Outs of Local Market Produce in Paris
Four foodies walked into a bar. Never mind. That’s another story… This story begins at a panel discussion at the American Library in Paris. Four food notables—Alec Lobrano, Kristen Beddard, Emily Dilling and Jessie Kanelos Weiner—examined the past, present, and future of local market produce in Paris. How are our produce markets changing? What do we hope will stay the same? How are our food customs evolving? What drives this transformation? Panel moderator Alec Lobrano—a food writer for several major publications and author of Hungry for Paris and Hungry for France—used inspiration from his home state of Connecticut to introduce the panel. The state motto there is “They who are transplanted are sustained.” Hungry for France: Adventures for the Cook & Food Lover Since all of the discussion participants were transplants to France from the U.S., the idea of “being sustained” was not just a metaphor for finding roots in their new adopted country and creating a successful path for themselves. It was also a literal reference to the pleasures of food in France. The panel members each represent a different aspect of the food culture in Paris, but all value the French appreciation for fresh, seasonal, local produce and the focus on meals as a social pleasure. Kristen Beddard is the founder of The Kale Project and author of Bonjour Kale. When she first arrived in France, she noticed that the U.S. superfood of the moment—kale—was nowhere to be found in Paris markets. It was a légume oublié … a forgotten vegetable. She vowed to change that. Let the kale crusade begin. Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes She gave kale seeds to farmers, talked with market vendors, visited chefs, and made kale a community topic. Now, five years later, you can find kale (chou kale) everywhere. Her memoir tells the story of her quest, with its happy ending of a vegetable rediscovered. Emily Dilling is the founder of Paris Paysanne and the author of My Paris Market Cookbook. Her blog led to a book deal that started out as a guide to off-the-beaten-path places in Paris. The book grew into a guide to markets, as well as a cookbook. Since she did not consider herself an expert in cooking, the recipes are easy to prepare (my kind of cooking!)—a perfect way to take advantage of the essence of good products. My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes She admits that her relationship to cooking has changed over the past few years. Now, she goes to the market with no shopping list, just a desire to choose what looks fresh and good and a desire to share that goodness with friends. Jessie Kanelos Weiner is the author/illustrator of Edible Paradise. Her love of food emerges visually, as she outlines the produce of each season in coloring book style. At the library event, she displayed a completed book with her own delicate watercolors filling the pages. Edible Paradise: An Adult Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables Paris Local Produce We are lucky to have more than 60 open markets in Paris, varying their schedules to cover every day of the week (except Monday). The panelists, however, acknowledged that the market environment changing. There are very few farmers at these farmer’s markets now. Even though the city favors local producers, the trend is for a few large distributors to dominate. Also when you look beyond the facade of these picturesque open-air scenes, you find fruits and vegetables that are often shipped from afar, not seasonal local produce. “For centuries Paris nourished itself,” Alec reminded the library audience. Now a trend toward global import is emerging, for better or for worse. All the panelists acknowledged how difficult it is for modern farmers. Success is dependent on hard work and favorable climate. But the added demands of bringing the produce to the city markets three or more times a week make this way of life challenging. As a result, many farms are dying. The younger generation of farming families is reluctant to take on the challenges. Some farmers have solved part of their problems by joining an AMAP network (Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne). A direct contract between farmer and consumer results in fresh, seasonal (often organic) foods delivered directly from producer to consumer. As several panel members noted, the weekly AMAP box can be “gastronomically challenging.” You don’t know what will be in your delivery. You must rise to the occasion (e.g., making creative use of the plethora of potatoes during the winter months). Market Advice The panelists gave advice for how to find the best produce at an open market: Look for the longest line, especially a line where the customers are chatting with one another as well as with the merchants. Find a merchant where you can ask questions and get thoughtful, honest answers. Look for stalls where the producer is present. Sadly, this has become more and more rare as the rigors of farming and attending daily markets are too demanding. Remember that every time you buy something, you’re voting. So vote for the best. (Words of…

Lead photo credit : ®Mullins

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Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." (If you’re in Paris, a few rare, signed copies are available at Shakespeare and Company and Red Wheelbarrow.) She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.


  • germdoctor
    2017-04-11 17:50:20
    I found this article quite interesting. While getting ready for an upcoming trip to Paris, I've read a lot about the various Paris markets. Frankly, we have a number of these farm-to-market/consumer operations in the USA and some are quite good. But, I have been to many a "farmer's market", or road-side stand, where the produce was effectively being resold and was not grown on that farmer's land. That doesn't make the produce "bad" but you do lose something of the intimacy between the grower and the consumer. The AMAP box sound exactly like those from our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and at least you know that those items were grown on the farm, i.e. they are locally sourced. [At least I hope so]. But let's be realistic, for us tourists, I'm looking for a fresh baguette, peut-etre du pate, du fromage et, bien sur, une bouteille de vin. Je ne cherche pas kale! Bon appetite a tout.


  • Michael James
    2017-03-18 05:41:33
    Michael James
    I think writers should be more frank with their readers. The three authors here are all a generation younger than me yet seem to suggest that "the market environment (is) changing. There are very few farmers at these farmer’s markets now." The romantic notion that the open-air markets had farmers selling their produce (from" Paris local") has not been true, with very rare exceptions, for probably the past century, and maybe for even longer. After all that is what a central wholesale market is for. A single farmer-vendor would have nothing like the diversity of produce on show that you see in any of these markets because most farms only produce a limited range of produce type. And Parisians expect to find the best produce from all over France and have done so for two centuries--it would be a very poor affair if it was only from local farmers. Indeed if anything the number of farmer-vendors has increased, not decreased, in the past decade or two in Paris due to the phenomenon which Emily Dilling described for the Ornano market, ie. organic (biologique) produce in which some markets specialize. Ultimately one would expect this too to give way to specialist vendors who source from the many specialist farmers; and that's no bad thing. One has to remember that everything is strictly (and effectively) regulated in France so organic is certified (I have considerable doubts in the Anglophone world where far fewer people, and even fewer in the commercial world, take these quality issues seriously other than as a point of differentiation and profit.) Also every product from every vendor must be marked with the name of the producer (ie. farmer)--this will be on those white plastic tags with produce name & price on them. Overwhelmingly one can trust this kind of thing in France. The point about these kind of markets is that you will find the same vendors week after week (most own their stall) and get to know them and 'their' produce; ie. the produce that they have selected (perhaps mostly from Rungis that morning). With time you'll end up choosing particular vendors for particular produce, and that is something we have lost in the Anglophone world where everything is almost identical and chosen by buyers for huge companies to be stacked on supermarket shelves. There is nothing wrong with the street vendors sourcing from Rungis. It is claimed to be the world's largest such market and that is because it effectively is the single central market for all of France (and with Orly airport next door, all the world's best produce too). And unlike the Anglophone world there is a world of diversity of every product, instead of the industrialized standardized products we get elsewhere.


  • Suzette |
    2017-03-17 15:19:11
    Suzette |
    Thank you! I enjoy these posts which help non-Parisians navigate the lovely city to experience the best of it. Agreed, Président Wilson market is indeed the best for so many things including flowers and produce. The cheese vendors there in Feb were kind and mmm so delicious. Have you seen Georgianna Lane's new book Paris In Bloom? Just incredible tour of Paris in the spring <3