Interview with Benoit Dave, co-director of the Artisans-Paysans cooperative, on the initiative of the ‘Fabrique Circuit Court’1

What challenge inspired your project?

For a dozen or so years, there has been a real revolution in the agricultural world, with an explosion of the number of small producers and a return to small-scale artisan practices which had virtually disappeared (market gardening in small areas, artisan cheesemongers, micro-breweries, etc.). The Paysans-Artisans cooperative was set up in 2013 to accompany this underlying momentum and support producers and processors. At the same time, we are a cooperative of consumers, whose purpose is to make a local quality supply possible and accessible. We have established a logistics system designed to consolidate production and facilitate its flow via an online ordering system, in our own stores, in other grocery stores and on the farm. But in all the excitement, we quickly found that there were sticking points preventing the deployment of the local industry. Typical example: the recent closure of the last poultry abattoir created difficulties for small regional producers. More generally, some facilities are expensive and inaccessible to small players in various sectors.

How have you innovated to respond to this problem?

Fabrique Circuit Court was created from the plan to open a small abattoir for open-air slow-growing poultry farms without any infrastructure to meet their needs in the region. We soon realised that other missing links were impeding the development of the short circuit. So, we had the idea of a ‘clustered habitat’ for regional producers and artisans. The vegetable processing area will wash, peel and cut vegetables, especially those destined for the catering industry. The cannery and jarring area will solve the problem of packaging and storage, while establishing a system of shared instructions. The delicatessen and butcher’s areas will contribute to enhancing the local productions. Finally, the company Ethiquable, involved in fair trade, will also occupy the premises. In a second phase, a honey farm, an ice-cream parlour and a juice press will enrich the ecosystem. The result is a multiplication of synergies and opportunities, as well as a better use of local productions with differentiated quality. The idea is that we are stronger together in our battle for alternative production methods and diets.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?

Let me tell you a secret: we didn’t check out the competition! For us, who are engaged in a project based on ethics and strong values, there was no question of us relying on partners who do not share these values. Financially, our project is based, in approximately equal proportions, on two external actors: the public sector and Triodos Bank. The latter was therefore an essential support to ensure the implementation of the shared Fabrique Circuit Court infrastructure.

What impact could your project have on the sector you work in?

Fabrique Circuit Court will start operating in the spring of 2021. We are currently launching the facilities completion phase. We expect there to be positive effects at different levels. Of course, a project of this magnitude generates employment locally (e.g. technicians responsible for maintaining and operating the facilities and shared areas). But we are also aiming for a genuine change of scale, which will strengthen actors and expand the market for local production of differentiated quality, which will also be great for jobs. Another more unexpected effect is already being felt: we have learned that similar projects are flourishing in all four corners of the country. The message is clear: our cooperative and integrative model has a future.

What impact has your project had on the community?

Firstly, we are finding that our approach is already encouraging the survival and emergence of a base of small producers, organic or of differentiated quality, and in particular new producers. On the other hand, at the other end of the chain, we want our logistics tools to allow us to reach many more consumers, directly or indirectly, through large kitchens and the catering industry. Let’s not be afraid to pursue our ambitions: our plan is simply to overcome the excesses of the agro-industry, which is currently mired in contradictions between a message that promotes sustainability and local production, and practices that put pressure on farmers by requiring huge volumes and low prices.

How does Triodos Bank share the vision that underpins your project?

Like us, Triodos Bank is fully committed to a more sustainable and just society. The advantage of working with Triodos is that it has had confidence in us from the outset. We have a lot of discussions because the bank is very particular about the projects that it finances. But our relationship manager at Triodos Bank, who really believes in our model, has always listened sympathetically. In any case, he has not seemed disconcerted by the unusual nature of our project.