ALBI — During a walk through the heart of the cathedral city of Albi, fruits and vegetables seem to be planted everywhere. And for good reason. A year ago, the city was given the objective of attaining food self-sufficiency by 2020.

In concrete terms, the goal is to allow the 52,000 residents to feed themselves with food produced within a radius of 60 kilometers (37 miles). "We all share the same priorities today," says Jean-Michel Bouat, deputy mayor for sustainable development, urban agriculture, water and biodiversity. "Changing the mentality of consumers and working on distribution circuits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Producing locally guarantees healthy food for all."

Several measures have been put in place since. The city first wanted to set up producers in Canavières, an area with more than 170 acres and 15 minutes away from the city-center by bike. To date, the city owns just over 22 acres on which four local farmers who sell to markets are currently renting parcels of land. The two first years are free, and according to the results obtained, the parcel will subsequently be rented for 80 euros per year and per every 2.5 acres.

Planting seeds in Albi — Photo: Incroyables comestibles Albi

Jean-Gabriel Pélissou benefited from this measure. "For a long time I wanted to grow and sell my product but I didn’t have enough money to get started. Thanks to the help of the city, it was possible. Here, everything is organic, but I want to go further." Pélissou, who works in permaculture and agroforestry, including trees, says he will have his first harvest next spring.

To raise awareness among inhabitants, many garden beds were installed in the center of the city, notably close to the famous cathedral or in the garden of the Saint-Salvi cloister. "The message to residents to help yourself," says Bouat.

Albi has been working with an association called Incredible Edible, which Jean-Gabriel Pélissou notes does well to highlight the value of the fruit of his work. "It’s important, for example, that people know what a real tomato looks like without industrial production," he says. "They have to rediscover their fruits and vegetables."

It will be difficult.

This raising of awareness is also carried out in some 20 schools, where mini gardens have been created. "We work with teachers, parents, and leaders of sustainable development," says Bouat. "We have to start teaching the youngest. If, in January, they see tomatoes in the supermarket, they will ask questions because they know it’s not the right season."

Next spring, the city will create its first self-sufficient market. The farmers selected will sign a charter, a kind of moral commitment to offer healthy and local products.

With all this work, will the city meet its goals for 2020? "It will be difficult," acknowledges concludes Jean-Michel Bouat. "We will not have enough pork for example, but plenty of milk and yogurt. But even if all our objectives will not be met, we will know that at the end of our mandate, we will have changed the patterns of consumption, of production, and more generally, we will have changed habits. And that’s what is important."