Before “buy local” became a household phrase, people had long been doing exactly that in 10,000 open-air or covered marchés across France. We shop at our own market every Saturday morning as much for the fresh produce as for the environment—the smells, the bright colors, the excitement—and we always run into people we know. We see the same vendors week after week so now we have a rapport with them that allows for joking, a few words in English from the truly brave, and even a bonus handful of fruit or veg when they are feeling generous, as they always are. In addition to filling our refrigerator, we can also stock our shelves with eggs, cheese, nuts, olives, and bread, or pick up a rotisserie chicken for lunch. Much of what we see on display comes from the farms that encircle Carcassonne and now I see that there’s even honey from beehives that we pass when we walk along the river to get to the market. It doesn’t get much more local than that!
It’s the city itself that has installed these hives around town including some on top of the hospital. Professional apiarists were hired to oversee the 80 hives that each contain up to 100,000 bees that combined, will produce around 2,400 kilograms (5,290 pounds) of honey per year. At the market we normally buy sunflower honey that comes from Montolieu, a village about 18 km (11 miles) from here but I’m anxious to try this sweet treat from the end of our street.
The bees are just one part of a program called Objectif Zéro Phyto where communities across the country are eliminating the use of phytosanitary products such as insecticides and pesticides in all public spaces. The nation’s railway, SNCF, has joined in too and with 30,000 km (18,600 miles) of tracks to keep clear, that’s a lot of poison that’s no longer being sprayed into the air or poured on the earth.
In our own neighborhood we’ve seen some of what the city has been doing to achieve the number one goal of Objectif Zéro Phyto: ensure the health of the inhabitants. If sidewalks or roadsides begin to get overgrown they are cleared manually; bird houses, bat houses, and insect “hotels” have been installed to encourage natural predators; lacewings have been released to eat aphids while traps catch the moths of pine and cedar eating caterpillars. Right beside those beehives along the river (featured photo above), an army of goats and sheep keep the pathways clear.
During the pandemic lockdowns when you couldn’t venture far from your house, “buy local” became a necessity. Now it’s a choice and it’s one that we’re pleased to make.