Mouans-Sartoux: from organic food for schools to land and food policy

Author: Alice Martin-Prével, Terre de Liens

1) Objectives and highlights

The town of Mouans-Sartoux in France has created a municipal farm to grow vegetables for school lunches. The farm covers 85% of the vegetable needs for elementary schools. Beyond sustainable procurement, the municipal food and agriculture policy has grown into a more global program articulated around five pillars: growing, processing, educating, researching, and disseminating. Mouans-Sartoux has also reviewed its zoning plan to protect more farmland (from 40 ha to 112 ha), and voted to help organic new entrants to establish by subsidising up to 20% of their irrigation start-up investments (up to €12000), in order to preserver water resource.

2) Stakeholders involved

Local authorities involved:

  • Mouans-Sartoux’s municipal council, in particular the mayor and deputy mayor delegated to education and food

Other stakeholders involved:

  • The “House for Education and Sustainable Food” (Maison de l’Education à l’Alimentation Durable [MEAD]) is a municipal service established in 2015 to stir the city’s food and agricultural policy

  • Research and education institutions are partners in some projects: Université Nice-Côte d’Azur, INRAE, Skema Business School.

  • More partners are involved in exchanging practices and supporting the local policy: local rural and agriculture organisations, as well as national and international networks (a national network of organic school restaurants called “Un Plus Bio”, URBACT networks “BioCanteens”, Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, ...etc.

3) Context and levers

Located on the attractive French Riviera coast, the town of Mouans-Sartoux (10km north of Cannes) faces skyrocketing land prices due to competing demands for urban and touristic development. The rate of disappearance of farmland threatens not only food production, but also landscapes, biodiversity, and the maintenance of a farming tradition in the area.

From early on, Mouans-Sartoux developed a strategy of acquiring “strategic” farmland. In 2005, it pre-empted the sale of an old agricultural estate which was going to be bought by a developer. Located near the town centre, the estate is composed of 6 ha of land and a farmhouse. The acquisition amounted to €1 million. Mouans-Sartoux decided to re-designate this area as farmland so as to ensure it would remain in farming use in the long term.

Later the council voted to convert the estate into a municipal farm growing food for local schools, internalising the farm management within the municipal team. Mouans-Sartoux’ local councillors are dedicated to delivering high-quality public services and had prior experience with direct, in-house management of some services (water, local transport, funerals). Mouans-Sartoux’s actions have generated interest and trust from external funders and partners, which have further supported the development of its land and food actions further in the following years.

4) Actions led

In the 2000s Mouans-Sartoux investigated various ways to provide organic and local food to its schools but struggled due to a lack of local supply of vegetables, among other obstacles. In 2009, the town decided to start converting the agricultural estate it had acquired some years prior into a municipal farm growing vegetables for local schools. It carried out a feasibility study to provide food to the three public school restaurants. In 2010, the town obtained organic certification for the estate.

The municipal Park Departments tested vegetable growing on a few acres for one year, producing one tonne of potatoes and 130 kg of squash. These vegetables were included in the three school restaurants. After the test year, Mouans-Sartoux hired a salaried grower. The position of “agricultural employee” does not exist in public service. The municipal council decided to hire the farmer as an executive so that he would be paid for working days instead of working hours, which was considered more suitable for vegetable growing. In exchange, the municipality took charge of the farmhouse which was made available to the grower in addition to his monthly salary. In parallel, Mouans-Sartoux invested €60,000 in agricultural material (to purchase greenhouses, a tractor, irrigation, a cold room, etc.) to ramp up production. More recently, the town invested in a cold room and a processing lab to freeze or can the vegetable surplus from the farm over the summer when schools are closed.

By 2015, the farm covered around 80% (ca. 22 tons) of the school restaurants’ vegetable needs with local and organic products and, with the purchase of an additional 2 hain 2016, soon reached 85% (ca. 25 tons, or up to 96% except potatoes that are difficult to store in the region). This required important changes in practices in the school restaurants too. Kitchens were outfitted to handle fresh vegetables and ways of serving food were reformed to reduce waste. This, in addition to eliminating intermediaries and transport costs, has allowed not to increase the price of school meals.

The municipal farm is also an opportunity to re-connect with agriculture. Children are directly involved in the farm through educational projects. In 2016, the “House for Education and Sustainable Food” (Maison pour l’Education et l’Alimentation Durable [MEAD]), a non-profit entity, was created to implement Mouans-Sartoux’s food and agriculture policy. The MEAD carries out projects to change food practices at school and beyond. For instance, it accompanies local families to adopt more sustainable dietary practices. It also helps transfer and upscale the Mouans-Sartoux experience. By 2020, over 150 local authorities had been welcomed to visit the municipal farm. Education programmes at higher levels were also developed like the “Sustainable Food Project Officer” degree created in partnership with the Nice University. Finally, Mouans-Sartoux participates in European projects and networks (URBACT, BioCanteens, etc.) to exchange practices on procurement and food growing.

In parallel to this, Mouans-Sartoux is working to curb land speculation and favour the setting up of more farm businesses on local land. In 2012, it reviewed its zoning plan to triple the amount of land protected for agriculture (from 40 to 112 ha). It also voted to help organic new entrants establish on that land by subsidising up to 20% of their irrigation start up investments (up to €12000). Since 2021, the local authority has managed to find subsidies to hire a land coordinator. Among the plots that were protected for agricultural land in the zoning plan, further investigation is being carried out to determine those that could be interesting to set up farms (on different aspects: agronomic, access, need for infrastructures, connections to networks, etc.). This is combined with studying ways to recover fallow or forest public land for agriculture. Less than a year after being hired, the land officer had already had contact with a dozen farmers interested to establish in the area. The municipality is considering organising a call for tender when some public plots are rehabilitated.

5) Limits and perspectives

Mouans-Sartoux’s five-pillar land and food policy (growing, processing, educating, researching, and disseminating) has already borne many results. By 2020, three farmers were working on the municipal estate, two organic ​​new entrants had established locally to produce vegetables and perfume plants (a traditional production of the area). Numerous families and local people were involved in workshops on food and farming. 23 students had followed the “Sustainble Food Project Officer” degree. Between 6 and up to 10 staff are usually employed in the MEAD through public and private funding.

On land aspects, Mouans-Sartoux has taken courageous actions to protect farmland in a highly pressured environment. However, there are strong limits:

  • rehabilitation of fallow land is costly and there are some environmental concerns when vegetation has been left to grow for many years (clearing can threaten some flora and fauna species);

  • some landowners still feel that the zoning plan may change and are not inclined to lease to farmers. In addition, creating viable plots of land for farmers involves negotiations with several landowners as land is fragmented;

  • farmland prices remain very high in Mouans-Sartoux compared to other areas (between €200,000 and €450,000 per hectare) and make it difficult for the local authority to purchase farmland;

  • farm housing is an issue with high housing prices locally and the lack of possibility to facilitate access based on criteria linked to economic activity.

Mouans-Sartoux is nevertheless making progress and proceeding with care not to antagonise stakeholders (in particular private landowners). It is considering various areas in which to carry out advocacy to enable better food and farming action locally.

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