A missed ride, poor wifi and public toilet dilemmas of endless lines and no toilet paper was just the beginning of a trying day for the Wandercooks back in early June. Where was our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Dropped off on the side of a dusty highway, we quickly realised this wasn’t the train station we wanted, nor was there any station at all; yet our ride was already roaring down the highway.
Map in hand, we began the 5km off-track wander towards our destination; a small town by the name of St Jory in the countryside north of Toulouse. We must have looked like struggling wrecks as we walked along the road, the summer sun beaming overhead and our heavy backpacks weighing us down in the heat. Thankfully a few minutes later a mother and daughter duo pulled over to ask us in broken English and hand gestures if we were okay. The silver lining had begun to emerge as we got an air-conditioned lift into St Jory, and found free wifi to call our hosts to come and pick us up. The rainbow of our beautiful summer’s weekend had finally appeared.
Our wonderful hosts Laure and Jean-Phi live just outside of St Jory, a 20 minute drive from Toulouse. Laure is the coordinator for the region’s Food Assembly, a collective of local farmers and food producers that are able to pre-sell their stock online directly to local consumers. We think this is a great initiative to help out small producers while providing people with excellent quality produce. We were super excited to tag along with Laure as she visited a participating producer Cadapau Organic Pork Farm for the St Jory/Toulouse region of France.
Driving along the country roads it was easy to become mesmerised by the gorgeous landscape of vibrant grapevines and manicured fields of wheat, looked over by majestic churches and forgotten castles. After a week in the city, it was a breath of fresh air to escape to the country.
At Cadapau we were met with a marvel of bricks and mortar wreathed in green vines. The property’s history stretches back all the way to the 11th century, originally spanning over 20 square miles surrounded by a fortified wall. Now it’s a more modest size at 18 acres including the main buildings, pig sheds and grain silos.
Francois and Babbi took over operation of the farm in 1991 and enjoyed 15 years of success for their hard work. At one point around 600 pigs were raised on the farm, however unfortunately they were forced to rethink their business after France’s cereal crisis in 2006. Now they have completely transformed into an organic farm on a much smaller scale; instead of 600 pigs, they now raise around 10-20 pigs at a time with a max harvest of 1 to 3 pigs per week. This is why Food Assembly works so well for them, as a small producer they don’t need to meet the demands of supermarkets and can also set their own prices and amounts on each product.
Walking around the farm it was easy to imagine how big the operation used to be, with the size of the sheds and grain silos. With the scale back of their business they now have a lot of extra space which they intend to rent out to other farmers.
After a quick tour of the piggery and the nearby meat processing property it was time to earn our lunch! Francois intends to set up an on-site shop in an unused room on the property but first it needs some insulation. We helped to pull down the insulation from storage and install it into the new ‘shop’ – a fun task but a dirty one! Being covered in dust and cobwebs is no way to sit down for a delicious lunch, so we walked across to their private swimming lake for a quick refreshing dip, accompanied by our new canine friend.
Back at the house, a picnic rug followed by the makings for a fantastic feast was laid out on the lawns under the trees. Delicious pork sausages, steaks, potatoes and salad were laid out along with homemade creme fraiche, fig cider vinaigrette and slices of freshly baked rye bread, a local speciality. With Food Assembly, the sausages and steaks can be pre-ordered and paid for online so each farmer can work out exact quantities needed for the week ahead. Then, consumers meet at a local pick-up point in the city a week later to collect their pre-paid produce.
We raised our glasses of sangria and chilled white wine to toast our wonderful hosts and thank them for the delicious food, but the meal was not over yet. Lucky we had saved some room for some of the most incredible homemade strawberry ice cream we have ever eaten.
Alas, being a closely-guarded secret family recipe, no amount of pleading or bribery could make them ‘spill the beans’ on the method, but we were able to get the ingredients list. Challenge accepted! We’ll be sure to experiment with this one and share our results with you as soon as we can!
As the sun started to fall through the sky towards the horizon it was time to head back ‘home’ for the night. What a great introduction to Food Assembly. Meeting the farmers firsthand opened our eyes to the huge impact this great initiative has in bringing both producers and consumers together – resulting in fresh, healthy, quality food and products at affordable prices. Win, win!