SAINT-NAZAIRE- “Business is slow these days, too slow…” says 34-year-old restaurant employee from Saint-Nazaire in western France, Cedric Derouin.
As he dries drinking glasses, he talks about the consecutive closings of dozens of local businesses, the laying off of his only coworker a few months ago. He shares his uncertain future with the workers from the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard, the city’s main employer. “No one is placing orders anymore –what’s going to happen when the last two ships are delivered?” he wonders.
Where is the man behind the enthusiastic and Facebook messages? The man full of hope who we talked to on the phone? Just give him time to close shop. We follow him home and watch him present – with great pleasure, despite the rain – the leeks and cabbage growing in front of his house with a friendly sign saying “Food to Share,” that brings a little soul to this brand-new housing estate.
Growing a vegetable garden in the front of your house (and not in your backyard) for everyone to take – a simple idea imported from England, called “Incredible Edibles” that is taking over France.
“It all started in 2008 in Todmorden, an industrial town in northern England that was severely struck by the crisis,” recalls François Rouillay, the man who discovered and imported the concept in France, starting with his eastern region of Alsace.
“To recreate a social bond, locals had the idea of turning a floral garden into a vegetable garden and to put up a “food to share” sign. Consequently, vegetable patches started to flourish around town, from schoolyards to police stations. It not only brought the community back together but it also motivated everyone start eating locally-grown produce again.”
In May, François Rouillay planted vegetables in front of his house, and was soon followed by a neighbor. After that, he put down his spade and turned on his computer. Instead of confining the movement to his region, he created the “Incredible Edibles France” Facebook page to encourage others to join the movement.
And then, one “like” after another, the movement spread across France in less than six months.
Replacing city trees with fruit trees
This is how Cedric Derouin heard about the first French Incredible Edible gardens. “I invited people to help themselves to my leeks, and people did,” he says, showing us the empty rows.
It’s a first step but he hopes it will spread to the rest of his town. There is this vacant lot that he thinks would make a great communal vegetable garden: “It would be next to the youth worker hostel, which would be practical.” The flowerbeds in front of the housing projects could be planted with carrots and potatoes. And those palm trees, looking poorly on the main avenue? “We want to convince the mayor to replace every dead tree with a fruit tree. It would not only be decorative but useful too. People who can’t afford to buy fruit could help themselves to pears and apples.”
He also created a Facebook page that has helped him become the spearhead of the movement in western France. “What people like is that it’s easy to join. No need to fill out any papers. All you need to do is plant a vegetable patch.”
This is how people from all walks of life, all kinds of ages, social and political backgrounds have rallied the movement. They are getting into contact through Facebook to discuss how to protect their vegetable gardens from the effects of winter, how to prepare for spring planting. “Here in Saint-Nazaire, we see people from the housing projects, but also those who have the big properties, in the residential neighborhoods,” says Derouin. “Some work, others are unemployed.”
On this rainy evening, they are about ten, meeting around a glass of wine to discuss the project. They all introduce themselves – they are “friends” on Facebook but have never met. Among them some old ecologists and activists, but also newcomers, like Sandra Bacot, a 32-year-old primary school teacher. She says she likes to see her garden as something useful, not something restricted to her own personal enjoyment.
She’s listening carefully to the older, more qualified group members, who are giving tips and techniques for growing vegetables in the cheapest and most ecological way. She had never heard about permaculture and seed trading. The conversation turns into a discussion on the state of the world. “Compost, seed trading, vegetable gardens –when you talk about those things with your grandmother, she’ll tell you that it’s nothing new, her generation did it first, ages ago. Why did they stop?” asks Christina Brulavoine, a 42-year-old executive assistant.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
- Arab-Israeli Rapprochement: Is Saudi Arabia Next? - Worldcrunch ›
- Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time ... ›
- Iran-Azerbaijan Tensions: How Khamenei Overplayed Islamic Ties ... ›