Growing your own food not only has health benefits, but can also reduce loneliness and teach you employable skills – this is the idea behind the Jardins du Cœur project.
Charity Les Restos du Cœur distributed 142 million meals to people in need last year. A small proportion of the ingredients are grown in its network of 100 community gardens.
Many of these are found in western France where the first gardens were set up in the 1990s.
The produce is cultivated by volunteers, with the help of those who benefit from the free meals. It is a way of producing “local, quality fruit and vegetables”, said Mathilde Serange, project manager at the charity. It is an invaluable service as inflation pushes food prices up.
“There is a diversity that responds to people’s demands. There are gardens specialised in chili peppers, for which there is a lot of demand, but which you don’t find elsewhere.”
Half of the gardens have a parallel aim of helping vulnerable people to re-enter the workforce.
They are employed on specific contracts if they have been unemployed for a long time or face other challenges.
They are supported by volunteers and professionals, who teach gardening skills while helping them with difficulties in areas such as health and housing.
“It allows people to feel useful, to learn to work as part of a team, and creates social links for some who often feel lonely,” said Ms Serange.
The charity has partnerships with companies such as Vilmorin, which provides seeds, and with farmers. You can sign up to volunteer or make a donation at restosducoeur.org.