Organic farming and environmental services social firm in the South West of France
Presentation of the “Grouping Cocagne Haute Garonne”
Since 1991 the French national network of “Cocagne Gardens” provides assistance to men and women in precarious situations for their return to employment. This is done by means of the production and weekly sale of organic vegetable baskets to a network of member-consumers.
Currently in France :
- 110 social firms engaged in ecological landscaping, organic farming, organic food chain structuring
- 4 600 persons benefiting from the scheme each year
- 470 ha of land dedicated to organic farming
- 25 000 households of member-consumers
Sharing a common charter and motto : Growing Solidarity Together
- To fight against exclusion and precariousness by mobilizing the conditions for a return to sustainable employment as part of a rewarding work activity.
- To produce in accordance with the specifications of organic farming.
- To market to a network of member-consumers.
- To integrate into the local agricultural professional sector.
Only a profound change in the conduct of the economy, putting employment and the environment at the heart of society’s priorities, will contribute to reducing exclusion and guaranteeing future generations a preserved nature.
Within the framework of our solidarity values, our project aims to propose vocational training actions and guidance for the most vulnerable workers with regard to employment. By means of economic sustainable activities we do our best to raise people’s awareness of their own emancipation and possibilities to act and to care both about themselves and the nature.
Particular attention is given to fight against racism, sexism, and against any form of obscurantism or discrimination. We promote exchanges and the emergence of a certain form of solidarity between the participants. Cultural diversity of the people supported and trained is a source of wealth. The development of activities with a social purpose, economically viable and ecologically responsible, is inherent in our project.
Between Toulouse and the Pyrénnées, the “Grouping Cocagne Haute Garonne”, member of the National Cocagne Network, has developed activities around the specific social, economic and geographical characteristics of the Haute Garonne area.
Our territorial anchoring, our cooperative model and the synergy between our structures contribute to sustainable, local and supportive food projects.
Indeed along the last 20 years, we have gradually built a collaborative network of social entities including 5 cooperative farms “Jardins de Cocagne”, a logistic center “Relais Cocagne”, a training and coaching organisation : Afidel, a grouping of management employers : Gestes and an NGO : Cocagne Alimen’Terre.
These separate entities are governed in cooperative mode by approximately 200 social members. Anchored in the territory, they provide support and means to develop social employment in the local & organic sector chain, creating cooperation with local farmers, public institutions (collective catering, food aid) as well as social centres, citizens, research centres, NGOs…
Afidel (our entry point in CEFEC and active member of MILMET) is particularly involved in the support actions towards employment and professional qualification: assessment and professional orientation, job search techniques, basic knowledge and skills, French as a foreign language, IT familiarization, safety awareness workshops Living better with little…
The scheme proposed by Afidel is declined from the French State and European SFE policies. It is open for 2 years maximum to people encountering personal difficulties and professional uncertainties, refugees…
Each year, Afidel welcome, support and train around 1,000 persons in accordance with their actual needs towards social and professional reconnection. Among this population, about 100 persons are proposed to be recruited in one of the “Gardens” and in our NGO Cocagne Alimen’Terre. They may then “put their hands in the ground”, become member of the farming team and take the necessary time to work out their own professional project. On average, 60 to 70 % of these persons progress towards a “positive way out”, in other words they successfully conduct their personal and professional goals, leaving the Gardens or the NGO either for a job or to enter a professional qualification scheme. Some of them also stay within the Grouping as permanent employees in farming, logistics…
Until now we created four Gardens (totalising 37 Ha of land), thanks to a close cooperation with a prominent French NGO and foundation : “Terre de Liens”. This NGO scrutinized the agricultural landscape and acquires farming lands in view of renting them to organic farmers keen to develop a sustainable and social project. This scheme not only allows to preserve land, it also offers the opportunity to candidates farmers to start and test a vocational project without the burden and risks of investing in land acquisition.
Our four Gardens are rented to Terre de Liens, thus we can concentrate our efforts on both the operational and the social purpose of running these farms and producing quality food for the benefit of all.
Each of our four Gardens includes a reduced permanent management & technical team and a large team of 25 job seekers. Together, they organise crop rotations, production, commercialisation and distribution of vegetable grown in the Gardens or in the farms of approximately 30 local partners farmers. On average every week 1300 baskets (5 tons) are delivered in more than 45 drop-off points in Haute-Garonne.
The consumers-actors, through a web subscription process, collect at the nearest drop-off point a reusable basket composed of fresh products : they do not chose the content, they adapt to season and are quite happy to discover ancient or different types of vegetables. They also receive recipes suggestions, news or invitations to take part in the social activities or initiatives run by the Grouping. Indeed our “eaters” are not just consumers, but active supporters of social and green economy.
In the Gardens, we also developed ecological services : River sides mowing and clearing, opening and maintenance of hiking trails, building maintenance work… This kind of services is highly appreciated by local authorities or railway company as an alternative to chemical weed killer.
The NGO : Cocagne Alimen’Terre, paving the way to a “Food social security” system
Cocagne Alimen’Terre was created in 2019 to specifically carry out a program of solidarity actions, to promote better eating for all and to engage everyone’s participation in a fairer and more sustainable food system.
Its objectives are to make quality food (good for health, the planet) accessible to the most vulnerable persons and to involve the participation of all local stakeholders (residents, elected officials, farmers, etc.).
Teaming up with social centers, local authorities, NGOs and foundations gives us the means to engineer a “solidarity budget”, allowing the our NGO to subsidize (partly cover the costs) of Cocagne basket, hence sell them at a very low price to precarious persons.
But that is not enough : giving access to food (even of high quality) neither alleviates social barriers nor brings awareness on the ecological benefit of eating local. That is why we accompany the food access with a program of animations and awareness-raising actions on food well-being: cooking workshops, gardening, food eco-citizenship, discovery of sustainable agriculture and food professions… These actions also contribute to restore the pleasure of social relationships, to share experiences of citizens, professionals, volunteers of social action, elected officials, associative actors and inhabitants of the same territory.
In 2021, Cocagne Alimen’Terre delivered 42 tons of organic local vegetables and run 130 animation actions for the benefit of hundreds of households and individuals.
The next steps… Creating Food Ecopoles
Back to the agricultural context of our region, the Haute-Garonne, the growing demand for semi-wholesale organic vegetable and fruit production for collective and local catering is not met, owing to low rate of production.
Semi-wholesale organic production is hampered by two mains factors: established farmers lack access to local technical and economic expertise in this particular sector & the new generation of farmers is insufficiently experienced and trained in the semi-whole sale production of organic produce.
Faced with these findings, the Grouping Cocagne Haute-Garonne and its partner “Terre de Liens” have decided to build a new organic agricultural model combining semi-wholesale volumes, agroecology, soil resilience and economic sustainability.
To boost the development of local organic farms we now propose test areas to candidate farmers to validate their technical know how and statutory guidance on their project set up. We are also keen to support diversification of organic cereal farmers towards vegetable production and to accompany conventional farmers in their transition towards organic farming.
New governance models need to be experimented to successfully shift towards mutualisation of means, logistics, prospects, market opportunities & commercial outlets (including collective catering, local distributors and food aid) for the benefit and decent economic sustainability of each player.
In 2021 we started operations, including irrigation 20ha of open land & 4,000m² of greenhouses. We initiated the conversion of organic farming 1 Ha of existing apple orchards and we refurbished 500 m² warehouses and processing workshop.
Within the next 5 years we wish to produce 200t of organic vegetables (ie. 14,000 meals/day for collective catering) and to contribute to the conversion of 150 ha of field crops to organic vegetables. We hope to support at least 15 farmers to ramp up, establish or to perpetuate organic farming business through pooling of tools and know-how. Ultimately we will spread and share the results of our experiences and know how for the benefit of other similar initiatives.
Our purposes and efforts, however modest, are concrete and coherent with the absolute necessity to preserve our ecosystems and to decrease the dependency to fuel and chemical input into the soil.
Feeding humans and repairing the Earth system is a challenge that puts the agricultural profession at the heart of economic life. It places the agricultural sector at the center of contemporary issues, making agriculture a solution to meet the food challenge of the Anthropocene.
Contact : Nathalie DRIGE
Member of the Grouping Cocagne Haute Garonne
President of the NGO : Cocagne Alimen’Terre