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When the countryside comes to town

Jane Hanks talks to the woman in charge of the huge agricultural show in Paris and finds out what it means to small producers who attend

The Salon International de l’Agriculture is the biggest agricultural event in Europe and it opens in Paris on February 24 for nine days up to March 4. Between 630,000 and 650,000 visitors are expected to visit more than 1,000 stands showcasing produce and livestock from farms all over France.

The Director of the Salon, Valérie Le Roy, told The Connexion why this event is so important in the nation’s farming and food calendar:

“The Salon is a really effective way of showing the public how our food is produced. About 1% of the total population of France comes to this event and that is massive. Those who come represent people from all sectors of society. 50% come from Paris and its surrounding areas, 48% come from the rest of the country and 2% from abroad.

“It is a real family event and always takes place during the school holidays. Two years ago we did a study and found that 283,000 children had come, the equivalent of the population of Nantes.”


There was a period when there were 700,000 visitors, that number went down dramatically two years ago. Is it becoming less popular?

Two years ago we saw a drop in numbers because it was shortly after the Paris terror attacks and all public events in Paris had fewer visitors. Last year there was an increase. If we have between 620 and 650,000 visitors I will be satisfied.


The Salon is always visited by politicians and farmers have either boycotted or demonstrated to show their discontent with the government. Will the present government get the same reaction?

It is difficult to say in advance. It depends on the news of the day. What is important is that it is a living event where there is a great deal of discussion and communication and we welcome the chance it gives for farmers to air their views.

It also means that members of the public can talk directly to farmers and find out not only about their working methods but about the issues of the day. For example, someone might say to a Foie gras producer that they heard a programme on the radio about bird flu and be able to ask exactly how that relates to the magret de canard they eat at home. It is a real platform for discussion.


How do you select the producers for the ‘Regional Products’ part of the show?

All thirteen regions are represented. In each region there is a committee which looks at requests from producers and first makes sure they are suitable. For example, we prefer to have actual producers rather than organisations which sell farmers’ products. There is an emphasis on the traditional produce for each area and the members of the committees know their region so well that they will be able to judge what should be included.

There is also room for new trends. I have looked at the lists of what will be on offer this year and for Occitanie for example there will be cassoulet, but this year for the first time there will be a stand with organic, edible insects.

Visitors have a chance to taste a vast amount of different products and there are also plenty of cooking workshops.


What does it mean to a producer to have a stand or win a medal?

It will boost their sales because they will find new customers for the future. Many farmers do not sell through shops but depend on local markets and salons all around the country for their income.

If they are at Paris and they also win a medal, it will show that they really are worth buying from.

Competitors are selected first by local Chambers of Agriculture before the short list is drawn up for Paris, so it is a real way of finding the best producers from the whole of France.


The theme this year is Agriculture as a ‘Collective Adventure’. What do you mean by that?

You cannot have agriculture without other people and there are several new collaborative habits. More and more farmers come together to create, for example, a farmers market or a farmers shop. 

The farmer is also an intrinsic part of the area in which he works, as agriculture directly affects the local landscape, and without him or her the countryside would not look the same.

The relation with the consumer is also becoming more important as the customer has an increasing say in the type or food he or she wants to eat.

The role of the consumer and their relationship with the producer is becoming more and more important and we want to reflect this in the 2018 Paris International Agricultural Show.

Paris Expo Porte de Versailles February 24-March 4. Open 9-19.00. Full entry price: €14;   


The Producers

For producers it is not only a way of finding new clients, but also a way of explaining to consumers how the food they eat is grown, reared and transformed, and they are finding that the public are increasingly interested in discovering the provenance of what they put on their plate.



This will be the third year that market gardener Fabrice Robert from Yvelines will be on the Ile-de-France stand at the Salon. Twelve years, ago he changed from butcher to vegetable grower, and included in his plan to do something completely different was the decision to specialise in unusual and rare vegetables.

Pink carrots, Yacón (poire de terre in French), swede (unusual in France) and Crapaudine beetroot are amongst the 200 varieties he grows and sells to the public and to restaurants including three star chef, Pierre Gagnaire.

He says that even though it is tiring being at the show for nine consecutive days and costs him €2,000 for a 6m² site, it is well worth it:

“I really enjoy meeting the visitors and explaining what the different vegetables are. We have lots of interest in our stand. I attract new clients but it is also a way of showing my existing customers that I am serious as sometimes people are not sure about my unusual veg. 

“I like it that the politicians are there as well, because it is the only chance we get to meet them and we can tell them what we think.”



La Route  du Chabichou et des Fromages de Chèvre is an organisation representing 320 goat’s cheese makers and over 1,200 farmers in Nouvelle Aquitaine, the most important region for goat’s cheese in Europe.

Their spokesman, Julien Soleau, says that around ten producers will represent the region at the Paris Salon and that the importance for them as a group is to make the public aware of their cheese:

“We want to get the message across that there is a huge variety of different goat’s cheeses from our area, ranging from small farms to industrially produced cheeses. It is a great opportunity to talk to consumers, who are often very curious to know all about production methods.

Ten or fifteen years ago people went to the Salon, mostly to see the animals, but now there is a much greater interest in the product itself. The Paris Show is an ideal place to demonstrate the path from farm to fromage.”

Jean-Pierre Bonnasserre from the Gaec Lanouté farm in Sévignacq-Meyracq, will be at the show for the second time, together with other members from his local Chamber of Agriculture in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

He produces Tome from ewe’s milk and for him, it is an excellent way of meeting potential clients and explaining his way of life: “Many people have no idea about the way in which we make our cheese and that farms like mine, which have been raising sheep, milking them and producing our own cheese every day, still exist.

“I went last year out of curiosity as I do not normally go to trade fairs or markets but deliver to clients direct from the farm.

“I did not succeed in increasing sales from the trip and on my farm, we do not make a huge profit – we just break even – but I thought it was worth it just to show people that not all fromage de brebis is industrial from well-known brands, but that it is also made on small farms like mine. People are really enthusiastic and want to know about our cheeses and to taste them.”

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