by: Gabriel Venet-Garbarini (Translated by Thomas Huebner)
In general, the Food Co-op market in both France and Paris is in a period of consistent growth. In France alone, there are already more than thirty active (1) cooperative supermarkets, excluding AMAP, Bio Coop, and other already established food cooperatives which offer a more narrow range of products to a far more specific population (a population generally quite close in proximity to the point of distribution).
While the Food co-op market in the whole of France is a question worth looking into, I have chosen to concentrate on the city of Paris, and more specifically, the 20th arrondissement. The 20th is the arrondissement in which I live, one of the largest in Paris, and the section of the capitol that harbors the greatest social and cultural diversity. Although the 20th is not the most representative district of Paris, I find it to be the most fascinating.
Commercial Life in Paris
In 2016, a project spearheaded by Halles Alimentaire was reviewed by the inspector general of the City of Paris. This study resulted in an official report which detailed (2) the need to reinvigorate certain neighborhoods through growing the types and number of storefronts present. Notably, this review indicated that by 2014 the 20th arrondissement was already among the worst ranking quarters of Paris in regard to population density vs commercial activity (3).
Poor and densely populated sectors with access to commerce/ businesses
This action taken by the city shows to what point there is a vital link between populations and local business accessibility. In a city where only 36.8% of households in 2014 (4) owned a vehicle, and in light of the fact that this number has and will continue to drop in the coming years, the importance of nearby access to basic commercial needs (food or other) becomes clear. Neither public transport nor walking truly offer the option to “stock up” for multiple weeks at a time— even if grocery delivery services are becoming increasingly common.
Notably, Parisians patronize local, small stores over supermarkets to an even greater degree than the rest of France. Perhaps big-city life has led to a desire for closer connections and more human interaction (5).
Life in the Neighborhood, Communal Living in the 20th
Today, Paris counts between 66,000 and 77,000 registered organizations. For 10 years, the 18th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements of Paris have represented one fourth of all new Parisian organizations (6). Among these three arrondissements, which harbor the largest socio-economic diversity in the capital, the 20th embodies simultaneously the greatest socio-economic and cultural diversity of them all (7). “Quartiers prioritaires, quartiers ‘politique de la ville,’ quartiers ‘à valeurs ajoutées,” terms often used to designate at-risk or poorer neighborhoods, the 20th is divided into as many of these zones as there are neighborhoods. If each one has its own specialties and personality, the key word, with very few exceptions, seems to be community and the desire to live harmoniously: garage sales, street shows, parties, commemorative events, open-air concerts, any reason is a good one to get out in the street and share a moment with your neighbors.
The “Collectif Paris 20” on Facebook is a group of about 6400 20th arrondissement residents. This group allows residents of the 20th to exchange ideas, share tips on places to go, and help one another. In the past two years there have been multiple attempts to start similar groups for the 18th (1900 members) and 19th (3900 members) arrondissements, but they have yet to be considered a complete success.
On the other hand, the “Village Jourdain” group, located in one of the neighborhoods in the 20th, works to promote local artisans, and even helped to organize an event in 2017 which resulted in four consecutive days of street festivities, bringing 4000 people into the street and staging over 200 local musicians.
Similarly, the organization “Le Marmoulins de Ménil” collects unsold organic produce twice a week on the “MIN de Rungis” (8) and distributes 2/3 of them without charge to over 50 families. Its members sell the final third for 5 euros a crate. This movement brings different populations together and helps them learn how to understand one another and live together more effectively.
A Cooperative Supermarket in the 20th
Thanks to the Marmoulins, populations of varying religions, origins, socio-economic standards, and places of residence come together multiple times a week to exchange and share. While leading a study on the demographics of those that benefit from these organizations, I realized that those in the most precarious positions often are not aware of initiatives outside the most traditional forms; such as “Restos du Coeur,” (soup kitchens) and other food-based organizations (9). For financial or cultural reasons, or simply out of timidity, or because of language barriers, few fragile people participate in these types of initiatives. This lack of participation is extremely unfortunate, as the products offered at cooperative supermarkets, for example, aim primarily to fulfill the needs of those who cooperate.
If the demographics of cooperators are not properly represented, then the proposed products respond but to a fraction of the population at the expense of the whole. From the issue came the “La Source,” a cooperative supermarket that I hope to open in the 20th—a co-op focused on collaboration with an emphasis on solidarity. The objective is to build onto what the Marmoulins have already started by opening a supermarket where each member acquires a piece of the store and in turn volunteers at least 3 hours a month. Members benefit from lowered prices thanks to the money saved on low profit margins and lowered salary costs.
Implementation will be primarily focused on “quartiers prioritaires” and “quartiers politique,” which are defined according to various criteria the first of which is a need to revitalize associative and commercial activities.
Our target population is extremely local, as mentioned before, to address transportation issues, our target clientele would live within 500 meters of La Source. We learned, after a discussion with the founder of “La Louve” (10) that only half of their active members regularly shopped at the co-op outside of their volunteer hours. Even more serious, half of their members only bought one shopping cart worth of groceries at the co-op a month. Essentially, only members living within 500 meters put in the effort to do the bulk of their shopping at the co-op.
Food as a Means of Building Social Connections
With La Source, we hope to do more than just offer a place to buy groceries at a reasonable price—we want to create a space where members share and connect. The desire to participate exists, there is a clear desire to exchange, whatever be your social or cultural origins, and it is this aspect that we are trying to develop in the population of the 20th.
Food can bring people together. Coming together to eat a meal, or to collectively work on cooking it, can be an excellent setting for healthy debate. We have chosen to attach a kitchen to La Source. Managed by an association, “un peu avant la Source,” will offer cooking courses, a place of meeting, and even an open space for members who may want to use the space to celebrate a birthday, some good news, etc. In short, this space, along with the rest of La Source is dedicated to successfully living together.
(3) Map of Parisian sectors (from the report cited in note 2)
(4) Study done by the Insee “In Ile de France, car usage by commuters drops“
(5) TNS-SOFRES “Supply of fresh products: French, Francilien, and urban logistics”
(6) Association.gouv.fr “All that you need to know about Cooperative living in Paris“
(7) Insee, “Une mosaïque sociale propre à Paris”
(8) Le Marché d’Intérêt National de Rungis est la centrale d’achat qui centralise les produits alimentaires vendus en France
(9) Association d’aide alimentaire et d’accompagnement vers l’autonomie
(10) La Louve is the first cooperative supermarket in France. It opened in Paris in 2016 in the 18th and uses the “Park Slope Food Coop” model used in Brooklyn for more than 40 years.