Farms, kitchen gardens, community gardens… urban agriculture is spreading in Marseille

MARSEILLE SPECIAL — Cultivating vegetables and flowers in the heart of the asphalt, offering healthy and ultra-local products to the inhabitants: this is the credo of Yazid Bendaif, Marion Schnorf or Marie-Laure Wavelet. From the northern districts to the 15th arrondissement, meeting stubborn artisans from the ecological transition.

Towards the railway, pumpkins climb the fences, a stone’s throw from the rows of cucumbers and peppers, sage plants and medlar trees. How many kitchen gardens does France have located in the heart of cities? This popped up under the SNCF city, an unlikely oasis amid the bitumen of Marseille’s northern districts. Yazid Bendaif calls him his “heaven”, and his too “refrigerator”. Six years already, he and his wife, Samia, have been self-sufficient in food thanks to their two plots. “We don’t throw anything away, we’ve learned to use everything, he said, his voice bathed in sunshine. Even the seeds of nasturtiums we make spices in jars, like capers, and we enjoy it. » However, nothing predestined this 62-year-old former coachbuilder to throw his hands into the ground, he who was born in the concrete of housing estates, who made “50 professions, 50 misery” and known “a lot of shit”, including a passage through Les Baumettes. Nothing, except the need to forget “adventure of a lifetime”. In 2016, when the couple moved here, both had health problems – two cancers for Samia and two operations for Yazid. “We saw this greenery, this potential… We needed a project, to treat us, but also to bring life back to the city. The landlord has allocated us plots. And it turned out to be a pleasure, especially when the land gave us that a hundred times over.”

“A society depends on food; if we can no longer eat, what is left?” Yazid Bendaif, founder of the Terre d’entraide et desharing association

It was before Covid and before “the right click”, which took place at the end of 2020, a few hundred meters away, in a former McDonald’s under liquidation, converted into a food bank by its former employees. After the M team, collective adventure that Marseille knows how to invent (based on volunteer work and donations), then suggests Yazid to arrange a garden in front “fast-social-food”, to “show that we could plant and feed ourselves in the northern districts”. During 2021, the roundabout is an explosion of colours, vegetables and sunflowers, and the more the days pass, the more the inhabitants flock, “struck by life”. Between the distribution of plots, the activities with the children on the estates, the meetings with various actors from the local agriculture, Yazid decides to create an association, Land for mutual help and sharing, to help the inhabitants establish common gardens. . “Covid has raised awareness and given lots of opportunities to work together. It was a springboard for agriculture. A society depends on food; if we can no longer eat, what is left?”

In the northern districts where Yazid Bendaif is installed; the farm Capri, launched by the Cité de l’agriculture in the 15th arrondissement.

Photo Olivier Metzger/Modds for Télérama

With his growing vegetable gardens, Yazid Bendaif is one of the eloquent voices of this thriving urban agriculture in Marseille. Food gardens, farms, mushroom growing in the basement, grocery stores on short circuit or picking wild plants in the city: each tells a unique story, often consisting of bifurcations and a search for meaning, between the end of the world and the end of the month. Some projects are carried out by professionals, others by associations or individuals who have always been to Marseille or have recently arrived. But everyone experience in mosaic fashion a city that is once again arable and edible. ” In the 1950s, Marseille was self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, recalls Marion Schnorf, young director of Cité de l’agriculture, an association dedicated to urban agriculture since 2015. Today, 90% of agricultural production is in the Metropolis [Aix-Marseille-Provence] is exported and 90% of the demand is imported! Fortunately, this absurd logic is reversible, although it takes time. »

Marion Schnorf, director of the Cité de l'agriculture.

Marion Schnorf, director of the Cité de l’agriculture.

Photo Olivier Metzger/Modds for Télérama

Nurseries in the heart of Marseille. Reassess short circuits. To unite rural and urban space “cultured, cultured … but not from a nourishing point of view”. Providing access to healthy and sustainable food for everyone in one of the most unequal French metropolises (median income will vary from 1 to 50 depending on the neighborhood) and sick of junk food – the obesity rate has increased by 200% in a decade. At the time, the project of Marion Schnorf, herself from a family of farmers and a graduate in urban planning, seemed moon. Eight years later, the Cité de l’agriculture is a key player in Marseille’s ecological transition, a laboratory for a new “climate generation” which articulates ecology and social justice.

A food sovereignty plan

In a large apartment with shabby charm – moldings, fireplaces, recycled furniture – in the ultra-urban reformed district, there are about thirty employees (average age 28, a majority of women) who emphasize other ways of producing, supplying, consuming. Support for project managers; overview of sustainable agriculture and food; launching VRAC Marseille (purchasing groups to make organic and local produce affordable in working-class neighborhoods) or rolling out their Capri farm: the list of their projects wouldn’t fit on this page. “We model the city of the future, enthused Marion Schnorf. Urban agriculture makes it possible to act concretely and to induce profound transformations the heart of the issues — adaptation to global warming, combating land reclamation, access to food, etc.

Driven for a long time by historical pioneers – gardeners, urban planners, community activists – this vision of a cultured city is finally instilling elected officials on the basis of climate, health, social emergency… Following a plan in favor of urban agriculture , started in 2020 , the Bouches-du-Rhône department has just launched a food sovereignty program whose slogan is displayed on the city’s bus shelters. “You are never on your plate when you are on long journeys. Let’s protect our producers, let’s eat local. » As for City Hall, it has created a delegation for sustainable food, urban agriculture and farmland conservation. “It is a revolution in the minds of elected officials, although the obstacles remain numerous, starting with access to agricultural land, which is difficult to identify and protect in the face of property speculation, says Lucas Turbet Delof, land manager at the Cité de l’agriculture and the Capri farm. But Marseille is very spread out, it is a reservoir of possibilities. We demonstrate this with an example. »

“The prices are affordable, I don’t poison my children. These kinds of places are the future, especially for our neighborhoods.” Laetitia, client of the Capri farm

As in this former wasteland of 15e district provided by the town hall with its spectacular panorama over Marseille and the Mediterranean as horizon. Who could have predicted that between the highway, pavilions and building blocks, the land would come to life again, to house tomatoes, courgettes and peppers, a hundred or so fruit trees, a bioclimatic greenhouse, an ecological pond (developed with students in agroecological transition from the university in the territories of Avignon), a public reception building (built with local materials)? This Wednesday, under a scorching sun, a dozen technicians from the city discover the 8,500 square meters of Capri, while the current participant site (construction of a dry stone wall) is nearing completion. Amidst the aromas, children burst into laughter. We breathe, it reconnects children to nature, says their mother, Yasmine, a regular at the weekly vegetable sale. ” The prices are affordable, I will not poison my children. These kinds of places are the future, especially for our neighborhoods,” adds her friend Laetitia.

The production is sold on site alongside several information workshops, organized with associations, schools, social centres. “And then we test, we experiment”, adds Lucas Turbet Delof. To document the impacts on the ground, on air quality. To refine productions: “We want to meet the demand from consumers in the neighbourhood, but also adapt to the climate, which is warming up. For example, we realized that sweet potatoes, okra or peppers, tropical products that come from far away, grow very well. The idea is always that other project managers can rely on our experience. »

“We sometimes say that Marseille is behind. Above all, there is enormous potential.” Marie-Laure Wavelet

Marie-Laure Wavelet, creator of Les Fleurs de Marseille, the first urban flower farm.

Marie-Laure Wavelet, creator of Les Fleurs de Marseille, the first urban flower farm.

Photo Olivier Metzger/Modds for Télérama

Showing that it is possible and expanding the network of urban neo-farmers is also that, at the other end of the 15.eNicolas d’Azémar, pioneer in the cultivation of mushrooms — organic oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms —, “in a circular model, without waste”, that he grows in the basement of a solidarity grocery store while he waits to find another place – “there are so many unoccupied parking spaces in the city, but landlords are not used to turning them into agricultural projects”. His champ post » (a mushroom fertilizer), Originally developed from coffee grounds and soon Camargue rice straw, the land feeds the Capri farm. “We swarm, says Marie-Laure Wavelet, who gave up her job as web manager. The city gives us the opportunity to test a nurturing activity without radically changing our lifestyle. » This “ultra city” preparing to create Marseille’s first urban flower farm at Grain de la Vallée, a formidable food, culture and agriculture third place, installed in a former school, at the foot of Pagnol’s hills. She met Valentine Traoré, the founder of the place, at the housewarming party in the Cité de l’agriculture. “We sometimes say that Marseille is behind. Above all, there is enormous potential. » In a few months, in one of these surreal suburban areas, between a Seveso factory, a motorway, a railway line, a prison for minors and facing the Calanques National Park, irises, cosmos and dahlias will grow. Another city, “which respects the earth, the seasons and people”, to become.

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