A rich agricultural past
Agriculture for social purposes
Agricultural unit Plaine de France
Parks and Forests
The intense urbanization of Seine-Saint-Denis might suggest, at first sight, a lack of agricultural activity or the possible presence of some marginal farming activity. In reality, the agricultural census of all forms of agriculture in the department shows a strong agricultural presence carrying with it important social, economic and environmental factors within its territory.
According to the definitions proposed by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in its report « Urban and Suburban Agriculture », presented in Rome in 1999, « Urban and Suburban Agriculture refers to agricultural practices in cities and around those cities that use resources such as land, water, energy and workers » which can also be used for other purposes to meet the needs of the urban population. The first, an urban agriculture, corresponds to small plots of lands, "wasteland, gardens, orchards, balconies and various containers" used in the city for growing plants, breeding small animals including dairy cows for household consumption or for selling locally. The second, a suburban agriculture, refers to farm units close to the city handling commercial or semi-commercial farms that develop horticulture (vegetables and other crops) breeding poultry and other animals for the production of milk and eggs.
Agriculture in Seine Saint Denis was typically urban and suburban with, of course, aging farmlands inserted in the center of an urban fabric, but also the more homogenous agricultural areas which seemed to persist in the north-east of the department, in Plaine de France, in Tremblay, on the hills of Aulnoye in Vaujours and Coubron where main crops and livestock were located. The reputation of vegetable market gardeners at Plaine des Vertus, Aubervilliers and La Courneuve was well established. The different varieties were named after the region such "Cabbages of Plaine des Vertus, the very long leeks of Plaine des Vertus, the red and black beetroot of Plaine des Vertus, the medium-sized turnip of Plaine des Vertus or even the Plaine des Vertus" ! In the 1950s, three hundred and eleven acres of lands out of five hundred and forty-nine was farming territory and in 1936; fourteen farmers were still in activity. It was in 1970 that the last market gardener disappeared from Aubervilliers. Its location gave the territory the name “Bread Basket” of Paris because it supplied the capital and its surroundings with fresh products.
It is true that agricultural census carried out in the department by the regional and interdepartmental Chamber of Agriculture in Ile de France in 1988, 2000 and 2011 show a general decline in farming activity. Urbanization pushes farms out and away from the cities (resulting in supply problems, transportation, and access to healthy food, non-interaction between urban and agricultural structures). Also, the current concern in France in general and in Seine-Saint-Denis in particular, is to maintain agriculture in urban and suburban areas and to bring it into the urbanization programme of the territories.
Yet farmers and city dwellers find advantages in maintaining agriculture in the town : proximity agriculture allows for short and direct sales, reduced pollution (with reduced CO² emissions), access to local products, auto-production in part for recycling organic waste, the protection of the environment and surroundings and not least preserving links between rural and urban areas maintaining a social connection to the city. To adapt agriculture to the advantages and disadvantages of urban and suburban areas and to the needs of the city dwellers, research focuses on new forms of urban and suburban agriculture, such as private family or shared gardens and, in general, through all channels of consum’actor (responsible consumer). As for local authorities, they are leaning towards a policy of maintaining agricultural activity in the city, and especially in giving farmers the right to ownership
Different forms of agriculture are present in the territory of Seine-Saint-Denis that can be grouped into two broad categories some of which are found in one or the other (such as market gardening) : on the one hand, farming for economic purposes such as crops and livestock, horticulture, market gardening, viticulture and beekeeping; and on the other, farming for social purposes such as market gardening, shared and family gardens.
Seine-Saint-Denis is characterized thus by a wide variety of agricultural practices, spread throughout the territory, and by the importance of the social and environmental role that goes beyond food and economic issues. The largest agricultural areas are located at the eastern end of the department and particularly the northeast with a major economic role. The fragmented areas remain in the North West and south of Seine-Saint-Denis, in turn linked to social and environmental issues. Finally, the center of the department, highly urbanized, has very few agricultural areas, just mostly home gardens.
These farming practices are the last living witnesses of the rich agricultural past in the department, one of the pillars of its identity. Vestiges of the past are preserved (the peach wall in Montreuil), but also in the landscape (vineyards, orchards or old rural roads turned into hiking trails), and in the names of some Sequano-Dionysiennes streets; forestry (Bondy forest, massif Aulnoy), in construction heritage, the farm in Noisy le Grand dating from the fifteenth century, rural houses in old Tremblay, Coubron or Epinay sur Seine, the tithe barn in Tremblay, the silage house in Vaujours), or equipment heritage (tools and agricultural machinery Ecomusée in la Courneuve) as well as the archives, municipal or departmental, in Bobigny. These vestiges underline the evolution of the agricultural landscape to this day.
Begun in Vaujours in the years 1850-1860, the straw trade was done by the "straw-worker". The work of straw-traders was to collect straw and to negotiate the sale for fodder and animal litter. This trade was lucrative and gave birth to an old expression "rich as a straw-worker".
The house of a straw-worker was characterized by a close courtyard. The facade building was divided into two parts with, on one side, a house on two levels and lofts to accommodate the carters and valets, and on the other, a large barn opening onto the street by a huge door the height of the building. The size of these doors was the same size of the carts pulled by horses, which, when loaded could reach four meters high and weigh up to five tons. It was to allow these impressive carts to move around that some of the streets in the old Vaujours town are very wide.
At Vaujours, it is still possible to see some of these building; the last straw-worker ceased all activity in 1983.