La Ruche qui dit Oui!

washing kale

The word “non” is often the response of choice in France. And while it makes for funny snickering from outsiders, chuckling at complicated and arcane bureaucracy, it’s become a serious hindrance to innovation and small businesses, which have been having a particularly tough time lately. And there’s a younger generation of entrepreneurial talent, who have new ideas and are striving to be innovative and inventive, who want to succeed in their home country.

cheese

The group, Les Pigeons was recently founded by French web entrepreneurs, who felt used by politicians by increasing their taxes, who call themselves “pigeons” – which has been translated as “chumps“, a reference to the difficulties they’re having, feeling like they’re being taken for granted.

France has some of the most beautiful, delicious food in the world. There are outstanding raw milk cheeses, superb produce grown by petits producteurs, eggs with yolks so orange, they look like fresh-squeezed orange juice, and dairy products that taste like the actual milk and cream used to make them, not of stabilizers, gums, and additives. For every scrape with a bloated bureaucracy, there’s a bakery in Paris with the warm smell of butter and fresh yeast wafting bakery just around the corner from wherever you’re standing. Saying “Well, that’s just the way it’s always been” or “That’s France for you!” doesn’t solve any problems. And while it’s natural to have some good with the bad, I want everyone to succeed and thrive everywhere, including in France.

market basket

Folks have moved farther from the land when shopping, and buying local has become increasingly difficult in Paris as the farmlands surrounding the city have been taken over by housing and large-scale agricultural and commercial centers. And fewer people (especially young ones) want to go into farming for a variety of reasons, making it harder to get your hands on foods produced regionally.

chioggia beets bag

So an organization was formed in 2011, La Ruche qui dit Oui! to help local farmers get their produce, meats, and dairy products, directly to the people. For a while, I got a CSA box from an organization designed to support regional farmers. But each week – even in the summer – I was having a hard time getting enthusiastic about my box containing a head of lettuce, four potatoes, cabbage, and maybe some beets and onions. I wanted something “sexier” as the French would say, and I wanted to choose what I got.

Enter La Ruche Qui Dit Oui! Scattered throughout France, with many clusters in Paris, one subscribes to a ruche in their neighborhood. They likely aren’t the boon they are to people who live in the countryside, that often have access to local and regional foodstuffs, but here in Paris, there are eleven ruches already going forward, and six more scheduled to open soon.

chiogga beet

One concept that is part of French culture is collectivité, which is often expressed in the famous strikes and social services. We do have that spirit in America, with our system of public schools, libraries, postal services, and so forth, but it is more of an underlying thread that passes through French life; public institutions and systems are meant to help everyone and provide for the greater good.

breads

Of course, that’s been diminished in recent years with globalized agriculture and getting used to seeing haricots vertes, asparagus, and cello-wrapped strawberries all year round. So it’s nice to see an organization working to re-connect people with the farmers and food producers, who have historically been the backbone of France, and give them a way to bring their food directly to a hungry public.

beef farm yogurt

The concept works like this: You pick a ruche (beehive) close to where you live and simply subscribe to it. Then, before the next pick-up date, which in my case is every two weeks, you’re sent a link to the website (which works really well) that lists what products will be available at your ruche, with prices, photos, and descriptions.

kale

My ruche recently offered everything from kale (called chou plume) to heirloom tomatoes, Chioggia beets, and radishes, to beef, veal, and poultry, honey, financier pastries, buckwheat galettes (crêpes), jars of cassoulet, foie gras, raw and pasteurized milk, duck confit, pâté, apple and pear juice, artisan beer, crème fraîche, Kouign Amann, Champagne, yogurt, sparkling rhubarb cider, fresh-made pasta, locally raised split peas and lentils, breads, and jams. For those with no time to cook, each week there are also pre-prepared foods such as Bœuf Bourguignon, Blanquette de veau, and a gluten-free spaghetti Bolognese – all noted that they’re made by un chef Italien.

Prices are sometimes better than supermarkets and outdoor markets because you’re buying directly from the producers, not from middlemen. A bunch of radishes was €1,30, a head of lettuce was the same price, and half-dozen eggs are €1,60. At a supermarket or natural foods store, you’ll pay about the same for radishes, a bit more for lettuce, and free-range eggs are at least 50% higher in price.

(Note that all prices change and vary from week-to-week, and by the farmers and producteurs. And it’s likely that items in Paris are more expensive than in the rest of the country, which is common in France.)

Four yogurts (4oz/120g) were €2,30 – about twice the price of supermarket yogurt, but they were four- or five-times better tasting. A loaf of crusty bread or a large disk of cheese are about €4, although this coming week I ordered another raw milk cheese that was only €2. The highest priced item was a pintade (guinea fowl) which was €20. (At the supermarket or outdoor market, they’re about €13.) I didn’t get one, but since it’s rare to come across beef that’s sustainably raised, I bought two steaks for €8 which is about the same price as at the butcher. (Recently my ruche offered a colis de celibataire, with a variety of beef portions for the single person.)

I’ve heard people say that eating local foods and vegetables is too expensive, or trop chers, in France. Or c’est pas possible. But these prices are similar to, or less, than I’d pay in my local supermarket. And majority of the products are organic or cultivées en agriculture raisonnée (sustainable), too.

You choose what you want from a list sent to you via their website. (And I know I already mentioned it, but for those of you who have struggled with websites here – the site works great!) Then you add whatever items you want to a shopping cart and pay in advance for it. The day before pick-up, you’re sent a list of your achats, which you print out. Then you go to your local ruche and get it. Your local ruche may be a restaurant, café, or a public space.

la ruche

At the pick-up spot, you stop at each person or stand that you’ve ordered from to pick up your purchases. It’s a bit of slow-going, as you need to make your way around to get everything. But on the plus side, you meet the people who actually produce the cheeses, who raise the meat, the folks who cultivate the honey, the bread makers, as well as the farmers who grow the lovely vegetables.

My first visit, I got carried away and bought too much kale, thinking I might never, ever see it again. Since it was the first thing I picked up, I was shocked when the farmer handed me two giant bunch of the leaves, so big that they filled up three-quarters of my wheeled shopping caddy.

tomatoes

And I got some of the best (and only) good tomatoes that I’ve seen in Paris. Unfortunately when I got home, I found that two of them were past their prime. But considering the sad-quality of tomatoes in supermarkets and at the markets, I was happy to be able to have a nice sack of real, honest-to-goodness, farm-grown tomatoes to make a salad with, which went with the beef I bought. (A friend who has a restaurant gave me a contraband piece of horseradish, which I made a zippy horseradish cream sauce out of by grating it into some of the crème fraîche.) The beets were a bit large – I was expecting the tinier, younger Chioggia beets I was familiar with back in California, although they were great cut in wedges and roasted with other root vegetables I had on hand. And I’ve been enjoying the excellent milk every morning in my café au lait, although it doesn’t last the weeks and weeks that milk from the supermarket does.

I’ve also been enjoying the very fresh eggs and wish I had gotten more. In the end, I wheeled away my overloaded caddy, having spent about €35. And that’s about what I spend at the outdoor market where I shop, where most products aren’t local or sold by the folks who grow them themselves. The only thing I didn’t bring home were the radishes since the farmer got stuck in the infamous rush hour Paris traffic and I didn’t have time to wait.

herbs

So like the clusters of Parisians – and other folks across France – that are showing up to support local farmers and producers, and enjoying a wonderful selection of vegetables, meats, cheeses, and even pasta made from organic wheat, grown just outside of Paris, I’m saying “Oui” to the ruche.



Related Posts and Links

Shopping for Local Produce in Paris

Les tomates

Community Supported Agriculture, in Paris

93 comments

  • Oh! I joined my Ruche in Lille the moment it started and was there for the first sale. It has changed my food-life! I hardly ever go to the supermarket anymore, unless it’s for pasta or toilet paper. I rediscovered the taste of tomatoes, green beans, and potatoes (who would have thought). The guy that sells vegetables is all “bio”, so the prices are slightly more expensive than at the regular Saturday market, but so much tastier! And seriously, I spend approximately 25-30 euros (more or less) for two of us every week (which includes yoghurts, cheese, butter, milk, eggs, and sometimes meat or fish); I don’t think that is so much. I would love to see kale there some day… I would probably buy too much just like you!

  • This exact system is getting very popular in Belgium as well! There are already 13 ‘food teams’, as we call them in my city of 250k citizens. I get a litre of organic full-fat raw milk or buttermilk for 1 euro and it is absolutely amazing.

  • love this idea! have seriously considered a CSA here in LA but have never done it because i still prefer going to the market to see the variety and meeting the vendors. with the ruche, it sounds like you get both experiences in one.

    great post!

  • I just finished your book, The Sweet Life In Paris, and I absolutely loved it! And then to make things better, I can continue reading your blog. I’ll admit, I don’t prefer to read on a computer screen since I am an old-fashioned book type, but I have been enjoying your blog posts just as much as I enjoyed your book, screen or not. I have always been fascinated with the French lifestyle (I have some French family), but right now my timing for travel is not so great. Instead I have been taking baby steps to learn the language as much as possible and learn about the culture. There are so many nuances that you cannot learn from material, only experience, so I thank you for writing about all those fascinating aspects of Parisian culture!

  • We have something similar that started this year in Vermont called YourFarmStand that lets you shop just like this. It has a variety of produce and local items. It just started up for my town. It seems like a nice way to choose what you want, buy locally and not commit to a CSA if you can’t. Although my current CSA offers a nice variety of things each week and includes localvore products. Last week we got a quart of sunflower oil, the week before local whole wheat pastry flour.

  • latenac and mlle: I like it for that reason; you get to pick out what you want. And I’m surprised at the variety (and prices) of things. Of course, since I’m often testing recipes, when I need peaches, I need to go to the market. And I like the market at well, since the cheese people have a much wider variety of cheese, and same with the others. But I stock up a lot at the ruche on whatever catches my eye when the list arrives in my Inbox.

    jaime: Glad you liked the book…and the blog! : )

    Darya: There is a bio/organic stand at my market, but it’s all stuff that’s bought and resold, by a middle man – not the producteur. So I don’t buy it. And the prices are pretty insane. I don’t mind spending more, but I’d rather spend the money on things grown nearby, if I can.

  • Because there isn’t a Ruche near me, I started getting the panier bio from Bio C’Bon. There are 20+ stores all over Paris (and a few elsewhere in France), and every week they put together a 10€ bag of organic fruits and vegetables. There is no subscription and you can pop in and pick one up (or not) any day of the week. What’s also nice is that you can substitute items if there is something you don’t like or if you need something else – for example one week I was making leek soup, so I traded the grapes for potatoes.

    Last week I got a big head of lettuce, 4 zucchinis, 4 carrots, 7 tomatoes, 4 lemons and 5 kiwi – not too bad for only ten euros!

  • Yes, it is exactly the same here; the organic supermarket resells produce that sometimes comes from as far as New Zealand (which explains the prices). I still go to our Saturday market for the stuff that I didn’t get at the Ruche, and quite a few of the people there are local farmers, so between the two, it is quite possible to find good produce in Lille, and at reasonable prices.

  • So glad you got your kale – and you know it’s not the last in Paris :) I love La Ruche and Nicolas, the kale farmer is so so sweet.

  • David, I noticed the sage on top of your caddy and it made me think of your recipe for Italian herb rub made of fresh sage, rosemary, garlic and course salt — I made my second batch a few weeks ago. I use it on almost everything and plan to give it for Christmas gifts this year. thank you — wonderful recipe and so easy…

  • ps, I sent this link to my local CSA hoping they might do something similar… thanks!

  • Kale! In Paris? Any chance of swiss chard showing up in the next batch? I’m signing up!

  • Can you explain why the tomatoes in Paris are so crappy? It’s always puzzled me.

  • Bravo !!! I’m jealous……………

  • kristin: Now we just need to get them to grow some other varieties – like dino kale! ; )

    Lisa: Swiss chard is pretty common in Paris, although it’s usually the long, wide, stalks, with some leaves and I don’t find it all that interesting. (I end up chopping the copious stems up for soup, and there isn’t much in the way of leaves left.) But I don’t find it all that flavorful. Would love to find some of that nice, dark-green rainbow chard!

    Lindie: That’s not my caddy – that’s someone’s suitcase! : )

    Anne: I linked to a post I wrote a while back about the tomato situation in Paris, but some reasons are agribusiness (folks buy those coeur de boeuf tomatoes from hothouses, and think they are getting the real thing). A French friend also explained to me that tomatoes are “American”, which I tend to forget, as they are something from “the new world.” But I’m always open to hearing other reasons why…

    When I go to the south, the tomatoes are amazing, as they are in the Lot and elsewhere. When people say, “You need to go to the south to get good tomatoes!” – I don’t know why they can’t send them up to Paris. It’s a short train trip, and if they can import all those green beans from Kenya, you’d think they could send some tomatoes up as well.

  • I would love to see something like this here in Germany. Germany is mostly behind things like France, although not in the groceries section ( I think).
    We rented a vegetable patch this summer and produced almost all our own vegetables. It was great, and we already have vegetables left, that we store in our cellar, like potatoes, carrots, celeriac and squash.
    But I’m also glad to go to the farmers market again and just to buy what I want and need ;). We also only choose the stands with their own produce. We also have a bio stand, which has way too high prices and they sell everything (so mostly it’s imported, which is sad).

  • The pictures are amazing and the prices aren’t bad, especially when you know you’re getting the item straight from the grower/producer. You’d think that, with the recession world-wide and more people relying on higher priced government services, the French would welcome and encourage more “made in France” type businesses, especially since eating “close to home” is better for you as well as limiting the carbon footprint of the producer. Ah, but the French are not alone in not always doing what’s good for them!

    I do wish we had something like this in Austin. Or maybe we do and I’m just unaware. Need to research this.

    Thanks for the fabulous pictures! Now I’m hungry!

    Claire

    • Well, part of the current stragegy is to raise taxes – in some cases, substantially. I won’t comment on if it’ll be good for France, or not. I guess time will tell. But I think it’s hard for a country to encourage people to buy local or “Made in France” when the prices are higher than imports, which can be made or produced cheaper elsewhere. France is considered an expensive country to live in, especially Paris. But there is only so much people can afford to pay. So it’s nice that La Ruche offers a way to get good food economically to people while providing the producers compensation for all their hard work.

      (Regarding government services being more expensive; in terms of health care costs, France spends roughly half of what is spent in the United States on healthcare, and while their system isn’t perfect, it’s considered the best in the world.)

  • David, that’s my point, although not well stated. You’d think the French would encourage people to buy local or “made in France” by not taxing the living daylights out of the farmers/producers! Costs could be kept at a reasonable rate and it seems like it would be a “win” for both the government and the people.

    And don’t get me started on the insanity of how health “care” is provided (or not provided) in the US!

    • Yes, I was just giving some local examples and perspective. I don’t know how much, or little, small farmers in France get in subsidies from the government (something tells me it isn’t much..) but nice to see this particular organization working so well! : )

  • Thrilling to read! I just signed up to the one nearest me. Also, since you mentioned in your post the fabulous eggs that you buy, I am curious to know where you buy your eggs other than La Ruche. I have only found one stand at the Gros/Fontaine market that were excellent. Thanks in advance.

  • This sounds like a great idea – I’m jealous! I joined a CSA a couple of summers ago but found it overwhelming to use up so much produce every week, and felt pressured to do so because it was so expensive. (And in the middle of the summer it seemed like it was nothing but 10 lbs. of lettuce and zucchini for weeks.) I love the beehive idea, though, and will try to seek one out here in the Boston area for next summer.

    Love the suitcase full of kale, even if it isn’t yours! Kale at least seems to last a lot longer than some other greens, so I hope you can use up all yours!

  • What is it with Americans and kale? Here in the UK it is considered fodder for cattle, not human beings!!!

    Seriously, though, I have said it before, and I’ll say it again – you who live in Paris don’t know you’re born when it comes to produce! Even if you only shop at the supermarket you have it so, so much better than we do. Your street markets are – or were, when I walked up a random one last time I visited Paris, last April – infinitely more prone to carrying seasonal produce than ours are – our street markets, like our supermarkets, sell the same old things all the year round with barely a nod to seasonality or locality (I do except Lidl from this, to be fair, but then, they are not a UK chain!). And while the tomatoes obtainable in Paris may not be as full of flavour as many, at least they are not all identical in size and colour – the fresh produce section of a French supermarket is infinitely varied compared to the serried ranks of identikit veg on sale here!

    We do have a weekly farmer’s market, but it can be very expensive and it is on at an awkward time for me (although I do go every few weeks), and we have the usual selection of weekly boxes, with the same problems as you encountered with yours.

    Your “Ruche” sounds a fabulous idea!

  • Great idea. I was in a CSA for two years, but with the short growing season in northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, it really only paid off in August and September. Simply going stall to stall at the farm market is more affordable. I love this idea, though. The French get it right on so many levels.

  • I am green with envy. What a fabulous concept!

  • Annabel, you should read British food writer Nigel Slater’s acclaimed and beautiful cookbook Tender. It is about how he grows and cooks vegetables in a small backyard in his city garden. He has a whole chapter on kale (with recipes) and says it has recently gone from the food of poverty to one of supreme trendiness. He goes on to say this popularity is probably due to kale’s high vitamin content, it’s cancer fighting abilities, the fact that it is easy and reliable to grow, and the fact that it is relatively pest free. I have to add how delicious it is to eat in everything from soups, pasta or just sautéed in olive oil and garlic with chili flakes and salt.

    He also states that since the earliest times kales have kept people going through the hungry gap from January to March — so much so that the Romans called the month of February Kalemonath. He mentions that what was once consigned to cattle is now the most fashionable of all the green vegetables, partly due to the way it is prepared in some of the best restaurants in London.

    So I hope you can see that it is not just we Americans who love kale…

  • David, why is the horseradish considered contraband ??

    • I’ve only come across fresh horseradish once in Paris (in ten years) – but since it’s used in Alsace, my friends who have a restaurant in Paris get theirs from a grower in that region.

  • The US provides “sick care” not really healthcare and is more expensive and costly due, I guess to, drug costs, overpaid medical staff and the system is run as a “business” with many people “making money”. To add to that the food system encourages obesity and diabetes and well you know all the rest…

    As for better veg available in French supermarkets versus UK supermarkets, Im not sure I saw that much of a difference. I suspect Anabel simply lives in a blind spot for markets: there was a great BBC Food radio programme on the resurgence of farmers markets all over the UK. There’s also a resurgence in BC, Canada too and no doubt across Canada.

    I really like the idea of the “ruche” and always favour meeting the growers. Its very possible that the growers of heirloom tomatoes in the South of France cannot affordably come to Paris and bring you (David) their best, maybe you need to hook up a grower with a favourite vendor and suggest to him/her that you would will buy regularly and spread the word and help initiate the change. Or maybe you have to bug someone at the better restaurants, to get a direct line on great toms …

    The prices of veg, cheese, tasty butter and organic milk, seems quite reasonable compared to here (Vancouver) … one Euro a litre!. But I do get awesome awesome heirloom tomatoes!

  • Big British chefs and advocates of eating your greens and Kale include Hugh-Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Don Monty, …… and many more, not just an American thing, I’m pretty sure.!

  • I am sure we all look forward to some great postings in the future!

    arthur
    Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

  • I am missing something because I don’t see how the ruche is different from a regular farmers market – you get to choose what you want there too, so how is this different?

    This post is so timely because I am listening on audio to the book, The Dirty Life: on Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball and it’s a really good account of a couple who meet, marry and decide to start a CSA (in upcountry NY) that provides everything – not just vegetables, but meat, dairy, etc. I’m about halfway through and I recommend it for an easy, entertaining read.

    Also, excess kale is great for kale chips!

    • The ruche differs in the fact that as a consumer, you can pre-order whatever you want, so you know what you’re getting. For the farmers and producers, they know what to pick and/or butcher, etc, and how much they’ll sell, so there isn’t waste & they can presumably plan ahead.

      There aren’t really any “farmers” markets in Paris, ones that are soley staffed with stands by actual farmers so this is a great way for everyone to buy direct from the producers.

  • Is the advantage simply that you can plan ahead? That does make sense and is an added convenience.

  • How interesting! There is a perception of France and the French that they all eat veggies they’ve personally plucked from the land, etc. etc. When I lived there during a year abroad, I fell into the habit of getting all my food from the nearest Franprix because I didn’t have time to frequent the local markets. I do a CSA in Brooklyn, where I live now, and the taste and quality of the produce is worth the extra cost.

  • Thanks for this write up! I love La Ruche & think that, along with the Marché Sur L’Eau, it represents an much needed market revolution in Paris that brings local producers and consumers together. Those living in the States & interested in La Ruche concept should check out “Good Eggs” which is a similar organization in the U.S.

  • I had the fabulous Kale Salad with Parmesan & Lemon at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant, Nougatine, in NYC. The recipe is available online at Serious Eats and is a wonderful way to use kale.

  • mmm i’m very jealous. i need to get involved with csa’s, there are many here in oregon i just haven’t got moving on it. thanks for the push :)

  • For anyone having trouble with their website, it’s not optimized for IE 8. Try it in Chrome and it will work much better!

    David, thanks for publicizing this, and for giving details of the tapis anti-fatigue you finally ordered for your kitchen.

  • My CSA provides two things: vegetables raised locally and land kept in locally owned growing instead of being developed (and lost to food production). In my area….it could be grapes (Sonoma County, CA) which are a mono-culture here or covered by building.

    My box last week? All grown on the farm or from our town (in the winter, they do outsource but it’s from w/in CA always): salad mix, beets, rainbow chard, last of the basil, kabucha squash, mini-onions, red cabbage. Also, apples, pears & 2 pomegranites. All organic and $25.

    So, for my $25 my family has it’s vegies & some fruit, land is kept as family farm & I eat food grown near my home. Win/win. and yes, I know the growers. I get my box at the farm.

    I love the idea of LA Ruche. Esp since it expands the type of items available (& locally produced).

  • One positive from the Federal Flood here in New Orleans has been the ballooning amount of local farmers, CSA’s, and farmers markets. I ate at a new restaurant this week that had sourced almost all ingredients locally. I see chickens in many neighborhoods (I’ll admit relief something must have happened to our local rooster). Your produce there does sound more varied and the eggs better, but I think another couple of years we may catch up.

    I apologize but I must respond to Bobster. As an unwilling consumer of the U.S. health system (a dozen eggs, yes; I don’t recommend getting a dozen surgeries) my costs were due to medication, but even more to the insurance companies. Medical professionals are controlled by the insurance companies both in time and money. When recovering from an accident or cancer, having to spend several hours every day on the phone arguing with insurance employees – who are just as miserable about having to say no (and having cancer biopsied is not “cosmetic surgery”) – is draining. I at least have the education and knowledge to fight. I saw too many who did not. Perhaps our medical system will catch up to France, along with the produce.

    I promise not to rant on your blog again, David.

    • I think he was agreeing with your assessment that they system isn’t working, and that health care is more of a “business” than a way of dealing with people’s health. (Although I may be wrong; don’t want to paraphrase anyone incorrectly!)

      Your mention of the aftermath of Katrina reminded me of when the cloud of volcanic ash covered the airspace in Europe, preventing flights for weeks. And there was a lot of concern that we would have food shortages. And it kind of made me realize how dependent we are in Europe for imported foods. You would think with the diversity of the European Union, it would not be a problem. But I guess it illuminates how the way we get food works, or sometimes doesn’t.

  • My thought about tomatoes in Paris exactly! Finally found decent French cherry tomatoes, still in veins, at La Grande Epicerie but it cost 7 euros for 200g!. Ouch!

  • There is a similar idea coming up in the intermountain west (Arizona, Utah, Idaho). We used “Bountiful Baskets” for a year or so. You start with a base “basket” of your standard CSA fare (but it’s guaranteed to have a certain number of both fruits and vegetables) and then you can add breads or cases of specific produce. It was really fun, but not as local as we wanted (I think the growers were all in Arizona) so we plan to switch to a true CSA.

    BTW, I no longer have a problem using up my raw milk. I find it makes excellent yoghurt. I bought a large (2 liter capacity) yoghurt maker, and now whenever it looks like I have an excess I just ferment it. Or I make dulce de leche – most recipes I have seen call for sweetened condensed milk, but I got a recipe in Argentina that calls for fresh (can’t be sour in the least or it will curdle).

    Also notice that when raw milk goes sour it doesn’t have a pungent rancid smell like pasteurized milk, it is more like a weak yoghurt or khefir. I actually find it kind of pleasant.

  • Reading your blog regularly here in Oslo it makes me missing Paris a lot!!! I love the Ruche idea! I will check if the norwegians offering something similar.
    Thanks again, I enjoy your blog every time,

    Ulrike

  • Thanks David! This is great news and I plan to join as soon as I arrive in Paris next spring!

  • Hi David – Here in Philadelphia I buy from a group called Farm to City which runs a similar program during the months that are not typical farmer market months (Nov – March) called Winter Harvest. Their website also works wonderfully. You get to order once a month for weekly pick ups at a local site near your house (the producers are not there – they deliver to a central location where it is repacked for the pick up sites). It is wonderful to have farm fresh produce, milk, eggs, bread, pickles, yogurts, meats, etc all winter long – and the prices are great!

  • What a brilliant concept! Vive la France!

  • Hi David,

    Love all your posts. I’m coming to Paris for Xmas week with extended family (oy). Was wondering if you had any restaurant suggestions for Xmas eve/Xmas. I’ve got some suggestions from a google search but was wondering if you knew of something off the beaten path.

    Thanks,

    Gay

    That week is a vacation week in France so smaller places are likely to be closed. There are some suggestions for that time period in my FAQs that might help. -dl

  • What a great article! Just to let you know, I also started a website that helps farmers and buyers connect in the same way in the Etats-Unis – with pre-ordering, delivery scheduling, email notices, etc. … David, myrealfoods.com

  • What a fabulous idea. I am hoping I will encounter something similar when I move to Perth, WA in a few months.

  • I spent a couple of months in the Luberon this year, all our fresh produce was sourced from the various marche paysanne around. No need to be organised and join a ruche, just toddle off to the nearest market that day. The Luberon use to produce 40% of fruit and vegetables , but I fear that is rapidly dwindling.
    Velleron most days or Coustellet on Sundays. Blink and you’d miss it, or see it as a place not to linger in, but the market has brought in its wake a couple of decent restauants, and caused other bussinesses to up their game. Its great to see how the market have dragged up this othewise unprepossesing village up in the world.
    As you noticed, the germanic, central eurpoean influence brings in its wake horseradish. I always buy some when in Frankfurt to see my sis. Not sure if its organic or sustainable, but it sure packs a punch. Great with beef of course but oily fish and veg like beetroots are something else.
    Of course you could always pick your own, if your countryside is anything like our lanes round here, the verges are thick with it. But digging the roots oout can be a challenge.

  • I am lobbying for our local food bank to include donated freshly grown produce from allotments, local gardeners and left over fruit/veg from the bi-weekly market. Seems a shame that food banks only give out boxed goods.
    We have a healthy fruit/vegetable box delivery system in the UK, well established and mainstream now. However I like the idea of going to collect my produce- anything that connects us to each other is vital; meeting our growers and producers is an added bonus.
    ‘Animal, Vegetable, Mineral’ by Barbara Kingsolver is written with the challenges of eating locally in mind. Published a few years ago, it is never more relevant than now.

  • We have that same barrier here in Quebec. It is hard to swallow sometimes and makes one wonder what the logic is. We lose so many businesses because of that *non* mentality and many of the people that do try to do something here wind up moving because things are so much simpler and lucrative elsewhere in Canada. On a second note, I work seasonally at the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal and it has always astounded me how the first thing people ask about is the price. And I am not talking about people of low income (I will never pass judgment when you are struggling to feed your family) but men and women in 300$ sunglasses who complain about 2$ for a head of lettuce, the energy intensive greenhouse tomatoes etc etc.. Farming is tiring, difficult, thankless work. People either do it out of love or because that is what they know. Food should be more expensive. We are in danger of losing our local farming industries because as you say, young people do not want to do this work. There is nothing in it for them as it stands today. It’s a tough road to show people how much value there is in that simple lettuce, that garlic, and anything else that someone works so hard to grow for you right in your home town. We are so fortunate to be able to grow things and to have the people that are willing to do the hard, physical work required for us to put that salad we take for granted on our table. My wish is that the questions change. My wish is that “how much” becomes “can you tell me the story of this beet” and that we will gladly spend less on other things and more on local agriculture and locally produced goods, the things that we actually put into our bodies. It is our health, our happiness, our community at stake. No matter where you are in the world, farming is our future. Without it we have nothing. Want to support.

    • What I find fascinating about your article is it’s depiction of France as a ‘non, trop de probleme’ type of place because In Britain the press likes to depict France (along with mainland EU nations) as a country that simply ignores legislation not to its liking.

      We’re always complaining about EU regulations regarding what can be sold, where and how yet we comply. Interesting that France is not as maverick as depicted here.

    • I, too, am often amazed when people think certain foods are too expensive. The same folks will pay $25 for a bottle of wine, but not for a bottle of olive oil. And while I am a bit of a bargain-hunter as well (I always buy the imperfect apples, which they label are “for cooking” – because they’re cheaper!), I don’t mind spending money on food because I like the eat things that taste good. I’m actually always surprised when I see how expensive things like packaged cookies and breakfast cereals are, when I go back to the states.

      Many people note that good food is a bit pricey – which is kind of why I mentioned the prices I paid in the post – but many times, we’re not paying the real cost of things. And the other side of the coin is to pay the people who grow the food what they, and their time, are worth. Few small-scale farmers are wearing Rolex watches. I like this model of shopping, of the Ruche, because it’s not more than shopping at the supermarket or outdoor market, and the quality is very high.

  • Relay Foods is a fantastic little American company like this…it started in Charlottesville and Richmond VA, and recently expanded to the D.C./Baltimore region and Philadelphia.

    Now I live in Russia, but when I was going to college in Charlottesville I loved it! The trend factor of “local food” aside, it’s really great for people who don’t have cars or just want the convenience of getting really great produce, meat, bread, cheese and artisinal food items all in one place. I miss it! Sometimes I still look at their website and sigh. Much like I do when I read this blog.

    http://www.relayfoods.com/Home/Welcome?returnUrl=%2F

  • David, have you made the kale chips yet? Wash and dry kale. Break off the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Toss with a little (minimal) oil (your choice) and then sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon mix. Place on tin foil-covered baking sheet in preheated 300˚F (148˚C) oven for 10 minutes. Really yummy, n’est-ce pas? Great for garnishing savory/sweet dishes…like chocolate cupcakes.

  • I can’t understand why businesses here are so slow to actually make the best of what they have, I gather it is a problem in France too. For example, most of the small shops close in the middle of the day for a few hours. However, with the security blinds down, most of the time you can’t even see a name on a shop, let alone what it sells. If they have a website, you can bet they don’t use it. If they have email, it is almost never used (no matter what language you write in!)
    We struggle so hard to find things but often give up as it is easier to source them on the internet and import them! Why? Don’t they want to succeed? Don’t they realise they could sell far more if only we could find them? I’ve even seen ads for restaurants in local mags, where there is no address given, not even which village or town it is in!

  • what a great, great post! read about the ‘ruches’ but where I live there is nothing like it to be had – had something similar with free range meat, organic eggs and veggies & fruit at certain times in Switzerland and also in Devon, UK. It’s a wonderful, healthy and tasty way of eating what’s coming from the region, proudly grown and reared by people who care for their goods, quality and the environment. i’m so happy for you David – and thanks for informing your many readers about this possibility.

  • I hope that idea makes its way up here, too!
    I’ve subscribed to a “veggie box”, the company originates out of Denmark but certainly has offices throughout. Very convenient, at your set interval, a box arrives at your door. Their foremost aim is to provide organic and seasonal fruits and veggies. Seasonal in Scandinavia does, however, include alot of root veggies and various kinds of kale in the winter. Sooner or later one reaches its tipping point. After six boxes straight where there were more kale and whatever root veggies there was, I lost my desire to cook anything with it.

  • Sounds ever so vaguely like WebVan (the website order part). Maybe the world is ready for that again, though I guess it would have to be called Reverse Ruche.

  • May I come on once more? I find the ‘ruche’ system so infinitely better as you may choose what you want and how much of it…. that was always the main problem for me with the ‘organised’ boxes and sometimes you got stuff you really didn’t want or like enough.

    I have no answer to the tomato problem and I ONLY buy them when I can see that they come from real tom plants in France and not from a hothouse from afar. Still, the problem is there and when I discussed this problem with one of my local suppliers, he said he was sick and tired of French produce because they were more expensive, less tasty, wouldn’t have any shelf life quality and anyway ‘Foutez-vous des produits français Madame, tout ce que nous produisons, c’est de la m….’. He certainly got rid of his frustration but wasn’t very helpful to my cause. Now he tells me when I come which tomatoes to buy because he certainly know which ones are tasty. I had some nearly brown ones, not great to look at and not cheap – but boy, they were tasty – gorgeousness by the kilo. Bought 5 or 6kgs and made ‘sauce’ and soup, some I just chopped up and froze it in bagged ‘blocks’ and used them later with my cooking. Deliriously good and all the sadder that it never happens twice. When buying on the market, I insist on toms from the south, they are better – and it’s true, it doesn’t seem an outrageous demand to get them up to us by train when we can get grapes from SA.

    • When I was in the Lot this summer, I was stunned to see cases and cases (and cases) of tomatoes at the outdoor markets..big, beautiful, home-grown tomatoes that they were practically giving away. I felt like saying “Pack ‘em up and send them to Paris – you can get 4x the price for them!” Oddly, there is an older couple at my market in Paris that are producteurs, but they buy those “on the vine” tomatoes from greenhouses, that taste like nothing. And everyone buys them anyways. I don’t get it. (Although I will buy them if I need to make salsa or use them for a long-cooked dish where tomatoes are required.)

      When I went to my ruche tonight to pick up my order, I was talking to the farmer who got stuck in the traffic jam a few weeks aga. He complained about the traffic in Paris, and we talking about the produce situation as well. But what was funny was when he gave me the head of lettuce I ordered, he apologized that it wasn’t pristine, as it had been raining and he apologized, and asked me if I minded. Wow! Now that’s something that doesn’t happen often.

  • This is brilliant.

    I’ve done the CSA but haven’t always been happy with what I get. Well, often wasn’t happy. The quantities and pricing were good, but sometimes 5 pounds of cauliflower and 3 pounds of broccoli is just not what I had in mind – the selection being limited to what that particular farm had that was ripe that week.

    I like to be able to choose. This system allows choice, collective bargaining for the Ruche as well as predictable sales and maximum return for the farmer. Everybody wins.

    It’s this type of innovative business which will allow the smaller artisinal, bio/organic, bio-dynamic farmers and quality foods artisans to survive in a modern over-mechanized and processed world, and I’m all for that!

  • You all are so lucky . . . we live in Baja California where so much produce is grown for the US, mostly loaded with chemical pesticides. San Diego, which we visit often as it is so close, has Whole Foods and that’s about it. Trying to find eggs with true yolks — impossible. San Diego is way behind in fresh, organic produce at prices that don’t break the bank. Local farmers’ markets offer choices, but at outrageous prices.

  • Thanks for the info, I signed up and the sale for my Ruche starts tomorrow. I already get a weekly panier bio, but it will be nice to be able to opt for some local meat, and milk products. And there are even two different beer producers!

  • Ulrike, Jessika, and others: The concept it planned to spread in other European countries. You can visit the The Ruche website and sign up to be notified.

  • I’m glad to hear that this system got going in France. I’ve abandoned my CSA (temporarily) and am making do with what’s in the house. I did just receive a care package of pecans and white grits from a friend in Georgia.

  • It seems that the-ruche is similar to myrealfoods.com (founded 2008). But we don’t have a big marketing budget, sadly. You can join as a producer, buyer, or club manager. We have the same three types of users, all working together. I’m glad there is a choice out there!

  • David
    Love your blog.

    The reason why you can’t get good tomatoes easily in Paris, or any other urban centre, is because they don’t travel well. The commercially grown tomatoes we get in our supermarkets have been bred to have thick skins to withstand transport and handling All the flavour has been bred out of them.

  • Wish we had this in northern California.

  • David, I laughed at your post. Here in Seattle, when we open our CSA box, we say, “oh no, not MORE kale !” We have recently switched to a choose-your-own program, so are much happier !

    I so enjoy your blog. I especially like that you actually respond to people who make comments. I follow many blogs, and believe me, that doesn’t always happen ! Keep up the good work !

  • So funny : I have to read your blog to discover something from my own country ;)
    What a great idea, this ruche !!
    I’ve got the chance to live surrounded by local farmers.
    But each initiative to eat better and to help little productors against big industrial food is a wonderful thing.

  • Your comment about the word “non” made me laugh. I recently had to fight with my credit card about a dented rental car in France. I kept telling them that I couldn’t get an “incident report” from Avis because I was in France and they just kept saying “non”, “non”. I think the woman finally got it! Wish I had a Ruche qui Dit Oui here.

  • Annabel – a bit puzzled by the kale is animal fodder comment. I am in the UK, and Sainsbury’s and Waitrose (the 2 supermarkets I go to) both sell big bags of kale all the time. When I go to my local farmer’s shop, it’s there too. In our household, we eat loads of it – steamed, raw in salads. I’m pretty sure these places aren’t just catering to my demand for it!

  • Whenever I go to the South of France (Var), I eat loads of coeur de boeufs. Assuming no one is pulling a fast one on my touristy self, the signs next to the great piles of them at the small produce shop I usually frequent down there says they come from the Var region. They are absolutely massive and taste completely different to the ones I have occasionally picked up in the Cite Europe Carrefour in Calais – those are pretty small and tasteless. We usually eat them sliced with slices of buffalo mozzerella, basil, the whole thing drizzled with olive oil and Maille balsamic velours. Back here in the UK I can only really get them at Borough Market or The Fromagerie in London, where while great quality, hideously overpriced. Then I only buy them if I am desperate!

  • All I have to say is it would be sad indeed if French agriculture went the way of the USA. I sure hope that never happens.

    If I remember correctly farmers receive a subsidy from the French government, which I imagine helps make running a small independent farm an economic reality these days.

    In the U.S. we subsidize farms also, but mainly to produce a few types of grains in an overabundance – which is why they are in virtually everything we eat in some form or another.

  • It’s so nice to hear from your article and from many of these comments that this format is spreading across the US and Europe. I am personally a dedicated fan of farmers markets (I have been a farmers market vendor for 4 years and going into my 3rd year on the board of directors of the same market) but I have long wondered what the next level of local commerce is going to look like. Here in Portland, OR, we are so lucky to have farmers markets every day of the week and many now going year-round, but you do have to be invested in the whole experience to become a regular market-goer. Several innovative programs have started up in the last year or so: Know thy Food is similar to your ruche, but I’m not sure the producers attend the market; another local farmer has organized the same sort of co-op system but with delivery instead of a site; I know of another farm that sets up a ‘farmers market food cart’ in several places around the city, selling their own produce as well as eggs, bread, etc. from their community; and my housemate is working on pilot software to turn this commerce model into a crowd-sourced local economy for both goods and services. Exciting times!

  • My wife and I get a CSA box here in California, we like it and like that we support a local far, but the box is not always that sexy as you put it. It would be nice to have the opportunity to go online and pick what we would like and what we need. It is a great idea. I am very grateful that we do have the opportunity to get a CSA box, not complaining, just like that you have a choice among products. Nice post David.

  • I love this blog, David, thank you.
    I’m from Africa originally, and until 4 years ago lived in the country of my birth, Zambia, which has an intrinsic system of seasonal local products, which is the way it’s been from time immemorial, until recent years when forced products were imported from South Africa. It was always possible to buy delicious organic mangoes and limes from Tanzania and, if you were lucky, vanilla and cinnamon from Zanzibar. The Saddac policy of free movement of produce makes this possible. These imports will never even have smelt chemicals!
    I still have one foot there, tho mainly live in Portugal now. Until fairly recently living in Portugal was relatively inexpensive and the products one could buy were local and seasonal.
    However, awareness of local practice in regard to what children are fed is simply horrifying! People buy into fast prepared foods without a moments thought of what they contain, including milk. My boys are careless about returning milk to the fridge, and what is very scary is that after 8 hours of being out, even in summer, the milk DOESN’T GO OFF!!! Coming from a farm in Zambia, where we buy milk from our neighbours that we have to pastuerise ourselves, I know that even an our out of the fridge means that you’ll be making chese in the next day or so…
    The idea of the ruche is very appealing to me, and I do so hope farmers in the Algarve and Alentejo jump into this idea soon. The incidence of chemical imbalances in children is becoming commonplace here, but it seems that the connection between foods and a 7yr old becoming pubescent is not yet understood.

  • I just moved to Paris and am living in the 6th. I loved this post and immediately signed up but I was confused about the ones that are under construction. Do you know if you can sign up for more than one Ruche or change which one you frequent? Actually the most exciting thing to see was that you were able to buy kale! Is wishing for dino kale a longshot?

  • We live just outside Geneva and have been participating in a CSA locally this year, all organic, with a wonderful variety, including fruit as well as vegetables. We even got about 6 precious ears of sweet corn on the cob, which made this American girl and her family very happy. And ditto to everything about French tomatoes. Must be the climate? Back in Chicago. I grew mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes, but when I’ve tried here, my husband congratulates me on my production of a “supermarket” tomato. I’ve given up…

  • In the late 70s – early 80s I belonged to a local “Coop” outside Tallahassee, Fl. Every two weeks, members met at a local school and we got what the organizers had found for us. Everyone got the same foods in the same amounts. It was fresh and less expensive than the stores and sometimes a bit weird for my taste at the time. Eggplant for instance. I worked at finding recipes to use these fruits and veggies and my (then, no longer!!) husband told me if I ever brought another eggplant into the house he would divorce me.

    I have since learned how to prepare eggplant as well as many other fresh veggies and fruits for a more appreciative audience. Amazing what you can learn by cooking for someone.

  • Yesterday afternoon I made a batch of your Spicy Nut & Pretzel Mix and it was delicious! I’m still nursing my toasted fingertips which come from not being able to wait until it cooled. But that’s what I get for being so greedy. Since you like those I am sending you my recipe for spiced almonds.

    Sweet & Spicy Almonds

    Preheat oven to 350

    On a rimmed baking sheet spread
    2 1/2 cups unblanched raw almonds
    Toast til fragrant, about 10 min.

    In a large bowl combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
    and 1 tsp cayenne pepper.

    In a large skillet over medium heat, cook 1 TBS. honey,
    1 TBS water and 1tsp. olive oil., stirring until combined, 1 min.

    Add almonds and toss to coat

    Add almonds to sugar, salt and pepper mixture
    (do not scrape extra glaze into bowl).

    Cool in a sigle layer on sheet.
    Enjoy!

  • Hi David,

    I enjoyed reading your post along with everyone’s comments. I joined a CSA this past spring in Atlanta for the first time. The idea of picking up a BIG box of freshly picked produce from a local farm every week excited me. However, I can only eat so many summer squashes! They were coming out of my ears! I had to unload several on my neighbors. I did enjoy lots of kale ( including dino ), lettuces, beets, tomatoes, etc.The heirloom tomatoes were so delicious and worth the experience of joining a CSA by far! It was a true challenge to create dishes to use up all of my box. I actually ended up gaining weight from eating so much healthy food before it spoiled! Non au CSA! It was just too much food for two people. Now I am back at the farmer’s markets on Saturdays. I’m hoping the idea of a ruche will catch on here. I really like the idea of picking out just the produce I would need in advance and be able to plan ahead what dishes I could make with them. Eating locally produced foods has become increasingly important to me. I feel lucky I have the option to do so.

  • Sounds great! I am a credentialed French teacher in Marin County, California. I have taught a French for Travelers class for the last 19 years. I am always searching for new hints for traveling and cooking to pass on to my students. My son and I recently began making and selling our signature pesto. We are in 4 local grocery stores and 3 farmers markets. I enjoy reading about all your adventures cooking, shopping, and eating in Paris! Bon courage et bon appetit a Paris! :)

  • David, I absolutely adored this post! I am so inspired by this idea as I feel we (and a majority of the population) are so far removed from the producers and growers of the food that there isn’t much to be said about the food in our fridges, because we have no idea where it came from. I would LOVE to start something like this, it’s like a twist on the community kitchen program I used to work at – Any ideas on building a startup like that in Ireland? haha

    I also chuckled at your comment regarding “actual milk and cream used to make them (dairy products), not of stabilizers, gums, and additives” b/c all of our yogurt nowadays has guar gum, this gum, that tapioca starch, corn starch… etc. I am very motivated by this post.

  • Hi David
    I am so curious to discover kale now –> i ordered a bunch in my next Ruche distribution ! I joined a Ruche for a few month and i’m also very enthusiastic about it (the duck magret from la ferme du loup ravissant and the jambon fermier have become basics in my shopping basket). Had the same feeling with the AMAP (CSA) : since then i cannot eat “blettes” any more as i had them in my basket 6 weeks in a row (and not mentioning the weekly potatoes-kilo)…

  • Lucky you! I tried CSA in Berkeley and found I prefer what you get to with ruche. Had to shake my head at the comment about milk and fillers. Too true. The cost of quality organic food in the Bay Area is beyond the means of average families. Say what we will about not paying the “true” price of good, but ’til government subsidies cease and organic farming practices are common, we can’t know the truth. I’m torn on the question of local, though, because not everyone lives near generous food climates. That I can shop fresh and local or grow food year round makes me feel very lucky. When I’m in Montreal, not so lucky, except in the short summer/autumn.

    • Yes, the discussion about the price of food is interesting. Since I worked closely with a lot of food producers and farmers, I knew how much work it was to grow and cultivate all those foods. So those people deserve to compensated for their hard work.

      Interesting that there is so much discussion all these days about how local and sustainable aren’t practical because that’s how people traditionally ate and fed themselves. When I lived in SF, the price of organic food was high. But living in Paris, even ‘conventional’ foods are expensive. So it’s great that the Ruches offer an alternative to conventional foods as similar prices. Montreal is a great food city, btw. I went there a few years ago and was blown away by the great food there!

  • Loved the article and am glad to see this coming to a country with such a strong connection/love affair to/with food. When I lived in France in the 70’s, in a small town east of Paris, one of my delights was to go to a local farm for fresh produce, milk, still warm from the morning milking and eggs. Here, where I am now, it’s city gardens and farmer’s markets that are leading the way back to wonderful fresh produce, dairy products, meats. One of the benefits of the produce boxes is the variety and the exposure to many new vegetables. True, prices are often a bit higher than the local supermarket but are in line with the stores such as Whole Foods and similar stores.

  • Dear mr lebovitz
    I felt obliged to say this after being such a devoted fan for 2 years , I love your blog and I love ur style of writing and doing things I own two of ur books but I don’t really have time to try any of the recipes u post but I read them and pretend I have done so u are my role model in culinary arts I may not have much hope in culinary but it is one of my hobbies since I was little and I just ; you’re just like a role model to me I used spend so much free time reading your blog!!! And oh I turned 16 yesterday so technically I’m a fan for 3 years :) alright I am done with my rant have a nice day

    Sincerely ,
    Holly P.