The Parisian Vegetable Gardeners
Eliot Coleman, pioneer of organic vegetable gardening in the United States of America, already studied the historical background of this agricultural principle some 45 years ago and in his book “Handbook of Winter Gardening” highlights in particular the sophisticated vegetable production in 19th century Paris as an inspiration for today’s market gardening. This “French gardening system” was small-structured (average area: 0.5 – 1 ha) and was essentially characterised by four central features:
- Regionality: The small horticultural enterprises were located in the middle of or immediately adjacent to a town. The supply routes were therefore extremely short.
- Variety & quality: This system supplied the urban population with a variety of fruit and vegetables of the best quality all year round (i.e. even in winter).
- Productivity: Meticulous planning, the most intensive use of the small areas as well as highly developed cultivation techniques enabled an enormous output per unit area.
- Sustainability: The necessary heat for winter vegetable cultivation as well as the additives for the natural preservation of soil fertility came from the transport system with horses at that time. The utilisation of their “by-products” was so successful that soil fertility increased from year to year despite the intensive production level.
However, the early days of tractors and the development of mineral fertilisers at the beginning of the 20th century increasingly pushed vegetable farming towards large-scale production. The advent of the first automobiles led to a decline in the use of horses and thus to a reduction in horse manure, which was so valuable for market gardens. The growth of the cities made land more expensive, agricultural use of the land became uneconomical, and so the market garden areas were successively built up. An impressively viable horticultural model came to an end. For the time being.