In the seven years I've lived in Paris, my summers have been increasingly city-bound and I've craved opportunities to have my bare feet in the grass and experience other more rural ramblings. This summer has finally brought us some season appropriate weather and the recent heat wave has made my desire to be in the countryside even more palpable.
So it was with great pleasure that I tagged along on a The Kale Project field trip to Hermione Boehrer's farm in Coulommiers (40 miles from Paris). Kristen, The Kale Project's founder, was going to check in on the current crop of kale, which Hermione sells at Marché Bio des Batignolles and Marché Raspail. I came along to discover a local farm and talk to Hermione a bit about what it's like to be a local producer at Paris markets.
If you've ever visited Hermione's stand at either of the marché bios in Paris, you'll have noticed that her produce holds a niche in the market that has allowed Hermione to distinguish herself from other vendors.
When asked why she decided to specialize in the world of young shoots and herbs or "aromates" as she refers to them, Hermione explained that it was her only choice in order to remain competitive against the other stands at the market- if she were to grow tomatoes or other typical market produce, she would be quickly out-priced by the vendors who resell vegetables distributed at Rungis from large-scale farms.
Another specialty at Hermione's stand are her fresh pressed juices. Her shots of wheatgrass are part of many a market goer's weekend routine and her wheatgrass plants themselves serve as a regular treat for Parisian kitties.
Hermione has worked the organic-certified land she is currently on since 2006, and does so largely on her own. The days are long and Hermione has her work cut out for her. Pausing only for a few hours in the afternoon to eat and nap while the heat is at its peak, Hermione often takes advantage of the extended summer days to work until as late as 10 o'clock at night.
Caught between two worlds, she chooses not to sell at the local market in town because the customers there claim they can grow many of the specialty herbs and young greens that Hermione excels at in their own gardens. So she sells exclusively at the Paris markets, where she has found a loyal and appreciative clientele.
The proof of Hermione's customers' fidelity was evident when we encountered Geneviève, a regular at Hermione's stand at Marché Raspail, who was spending the day helping Hermione harvest 70 meters of cassis bushes. "When I'm done, I'll take some home to make a clafouti!" Geneviève explained to us, peering out from under her visor in the midday sun.
Hermione doesn't like to be described as working alone, and insists that she has "many angels" who make up her farm team, including her daughter Ombeline and helpers who handle sales at the market.
Hermione took us on a tour of the kale plants, which have been met with great success at the market. "People come and buy all the kale I have!" Hermione explained. She's happy with the success, but sometime bothered by the speed with which her stock depletes, "then I have to explain to 300 people that I don't have any more!"
Kale may be the current star at Hermione's stand, but a visit to her farms shows the wide variety of locally grown, organic goods that this farmer has to offer. At the end of our visit, Hermione assembled a farm fresh bouquet for each of us, including sorrel, rosemary, bay leaves and verbena.
I am so grateful to have been able to spend a day at the farm, wandering rows of kale and fresh herbs and even doing some berry picking myself- the makings of a perfect summer day!
I'm also grateful that Hermione brings her farm-fresh produce to Paris for all of us to enjoy. Don't miss her on Saturday at Marché Bio des Batignolles and Sundays at Marché Raspail- pick up some cassis and make this easy summer Sirop de Cassis:
Sirop de Cassis
1 1/2 cup cassis, washed and drained
1 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
4 cups water
Juice from one half lemon
1) In a saucepan, dissolve sugar into water and bring to a boil.
2) Add black currants and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, using a wooden spoon occasionally to crush the berries and release their juices.
3) Remove from heat and strain into a glass jar. Let cool and then keep in the fridge for up to one week.