Nestled beneath the impressive Mont Blanc, Europe's rooftop at 15,771 feet, is the Rhone-Alpes region which borders Switzerland and Italy. The area extends out toward the Rhone wine areas west of Lyon.
It's capital, Lyon is the second largest in France and a mecca for gourmands. The region itself offers 24 microclimates allowing for a wide variety of agriculture and food production. So with the chicken farms of the Bresse and the cattle ranches of Charolais, wild game (guinea fowl) of the Dombes, fish from the Savoy lakes, fruits and vegetables of the Rhône valley and the poultry of theForez region are all within easy reach and supply Rhône-Alpes battalion of grand chefs. There are a total of 62 Michelin-starred restaurants of which five have three stars and 11 have two stars. The 10 Beaujolais crus and the wines of Côtes-du-Rhône, along with a wide range of cheeses including Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage (AOC), Reblochon (AOC) all pairing well with the region's specialties.
Today the start of the race shifted to a different starting point due to a farmer's protest. They were protesting the reintroduction of wolves in the Alps. So naturally my mind wandered to what these farmers where growing and what the organics looks like here ?
Organics is still a relatively niche market in France, representing only 0.5% of total retail food sales. More and more supermarkets are outlets for selling organics. Biocoop is a smaller version of our Wild Oats or Whole Foods. It has over 230 stores today and is expanding everyday--much like Whole Foods. Health food stores and open air markets make up 35% of total sales; supermarkets 45%.
In 1981 organic legislation was passed; in 1985 the state-approved organic logo started appearing gaining wider acceptance of organics in France and throughout Europe. Products with this logo contain more than 95 percent organic components, and are produced or processed within the EU.
By 1999 more than "60 percent of the organic land is located in the six regions of Basse Normandie, Bretagne, Pays de la Loire, Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrénées and Rhône-Alpes, which account for less than 40 percent of the French agricultural area." (French Ag Report 2003)
The Rhône-Alpes is one of the most dynamic regions in France in the agro-food industries. The irony is that while some of the best producers, farmers and cheesemakers can be found so can the French HQ of Monsanto, one of the leaders in GMOs as does Bayer Crop Science, one of the largest "crop protector" companies.
All of this makes me believe that there is room for opportunity everywhere, much like there is here in the U.S., for organic advocacy. The region also sounds very similar to the Bay Area and California in general. Well, all except for the Alps.
Image: Pajaro Street Grill