By Chantal Wei-Ying Clément
What does it take to develop sustainable food systems at the local level? While rural spaces are more often described as places of economic and social decline, they in fact play an essential role in providing people with community, identity, and livelihood. Often due to their smaller population size and area, rural communities in Europe have the potential to put ambitious sustainable development strategies in place more easily than larger more disperse cities and towns.
Tucked away in the foothills of Provence, France, the village of Correns is an example of how rural communities can come together to recognize the economic, social, and environmental value of their local food system and support vibrant rural livelihoods. As France’s “first organic village”, Correns’ story is described in the chapter, “Hybrid governance as rural development: Market, state, and civil society in Correns, France” in Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance. In this chapter, I discuss the innovative strategies farmers, village residents, and municipal officials used to breathe life back into their community.
With over 90% of its population involved in agriculture in some way, most of Correns’ locals still significantly identify with an agricultural way of life. The chapter explores how a combination of market-based practices and local democratic engagement allowed villagers to revitalize their local community. In particular, I looked at the role farmers and civil society played in the design and implementation of local strategies, and specifically, how working closely with municipal officials allowed for clear and cohesive community development.
Between 2013 and 2014, I visited and spoked to municipal officials, farmers, community organizers, and local business owners in Correns through a series of semi-structured interviews. Through these conversations and by participating in community events, I gained insight into the challenges and opportunities it took to build a more sustainable food system in Correns. I learned that Correns’ success can be attributed to three key factors: 1) mayoral leadership and the time and financial resources made available by the municipality, 2) the development of a new citizen-based decision-making structure to ensure equal relationships of power between state and society, and 3) using organic agriculture and quality labelling as the jumping-off point for broader sustainable community development. The case of Correns also stresses that the strong community bonds and the overlapping roles of members within smaller rural communities create key opportunities for sustainable development, namely by developing trust and reciprocity between community members.
As the mayor of Correns told me:
“Politics has forgotten that we are here to give meaning and purpose to our actions, but we have to do this. In the end, any community is only as rich as the men and women who make it. […] One of my growing worries has been about the state of democracy around the world. We need to renew democracy. Even participatory democracy is often used as a trap to mean something else. We need real participatory democracy that can serve to counterweight government power.”
Developing the sustainable food systems we need for the future are a community effort. This means that all actors have to be involved in the decisions that shape and put into practice the actions that need to happen on the ground for a transition to occur. Using multiple strategies (economic, political, social) rooted in identity and place allowed Correns to imagine the wealth of possibilities that might create the much-needed momentum for food system change.
Chantal Wei-Ying Clément is Deputy Director of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food). She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Carleton University, where her research focused on collaborative governance methods for food system transition, local food systems, and community food security.
Clément, C.W. (2019). Hybrid governance as rural development: Market, state, and civil society in Correns, France. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (pp-pp). London: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429503597
The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.
Previous posts in the series:
- Traversing Theory & Practice and the Governance Engagement Continuum
- Searching for Fit? Institution Building and Local Action for Food System Change in Dunedin, New Zealand
- Cooperative Governance and a New Narrative on Agrarianism in Calgary, Alberta
- From Local Actions to Systems Change: Experiments in Social Movement Governance through the National Food Policy in Canada
- Comparing the Effectiveness of Structures for Addressing Hungry and Food Insecurity
- Indigenous Self-Determination and Food Sovereignty through Fisheries Governance in the Great Lakes Region
- Pathways to Co-Governance? The Role of NGOs in Food Governance in the Northwest Territories, Canada
- The First Step in Collaborative Governance of Planning is Not Planning: Local Food Action Plan, Columbus, Ohio, USA