In Caen, the association La Maison brings the industrial wastelands back to life, one meal after another.

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in Caen (France).

Delicious juice from freshly picked organic Jonagold apples. It is one of the many local dishes served at La Maison de l’Alimentation Durable, an eco-friendly place that has been promoting a systemic, ecological and collaborative vision of food in the Caen (Calvados) peninsula since 2021. Sandwiched between nature, the road and the reception area, La Maison is a unique place.

Among other things, there is a food composter, a vegetable garden, and a wrecked van, which insiders call a “dating place” due to its subdued interior, decorated with a small table on which candles are placed. Generous donors also offered chairs and tables to furnish the space and even seat in the cinema.

Nicolas Broussard, a Caen-born computer engineer and co-founder of the La Maison collective, is an urban gardening guru. A follower of agro-ecological practices such as gardening on living soil – hence uncultivated soil – mulching and crop pooling, he is very proud of what has been produced so far: spinach, tomatoes, zucchini, parsley, arugula, lettuce. and beans. All these products have become the main ingredients of ritual Friday dinners, which are attended by ten to forty people, depending on the week.

“This is the home of the future of foodNicolas Broussard explains. Health, ecological footprint, good taste… Everyone has their own definition of sustainable food. The idea is to be able to talk about it and do it in a fun and playful way.”

The Sustainable Food House has a motorhome, a vegetable garden, and even a composter. And here weeds are not considered weeds. | Luca Matteucci

After a highly publicized launch coinciding with the end of RU:RBAN, a European city-to-city cooperation program promoting sustainable urban and suburban agriculture, Nicolas Broussard and the team’s four other co-founders have yet to achieve all of their goals. settled.

In order to make La Maison a more vibrant center of community life, the collective would like to share the contracted space provided by the city with other non-profit organizations. The request has so far been rejected by the administration, according to La Maison executives. “It’s a shame because the place is great and there are many associations that would be interested in coming here”regrets Nicolas Broussard.

Another disappointment: the municipality banned the establishment of a chicken coop. The house also does not have fixed access to water and electricity, so it depends on the good heart of the neighboring gypsy community.

Despite these limitations, the collective is slowly moving forward with its holistic vision of sustainable nutrition. In February, for example, he launched a series of cooking classes to combat food waste called “Empty Your Refrigerator.” These sessions are run by a paid volunteer who creates healthy recipes from near-expiration food brought in by participants.

“The goal is to highlight simple practices that people can adopt, says Marie-Helene Denis, co-founder of the La Maison collective. We want them to come home with techniques and recipes.”

Social projects

Former Integration Projects Advisor Marie-Helene Denis brought a social dimension to La Maison’s roadmap. The team recently joined forces with La Boussole, a day center 100 meters away, to provide free workshops for the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics. One such activity was the recycling of wooden pallets into pots, which would then be planted with tulips and placed as decoration in the courtyard of La Boussole.

The library of the La Maison caravan is full of books. Topic? Ecological food, of course. | Luca Matteucci

Marie-Helene Denis hopes to create other social projects in the future. For example, she plans to build a bar with members of La Boussole so that they come to visit more often. She would also like to launch a series of cooking classes with a local migrant reception center.

But for now, the team dedicates much of its energy to a 1.5-hectare urban farm located in Fleury-sur-Orne, five kilometers from the peninsula. Since September 2021, the association has hired Pierre, a professional gardener, to grow crops that would be risky to grow on the peninsula’s polluted soils.

“Yesterday Pierre and I picked artichokes, manguet and sweet potatoes.”, says Clotilde, one of two civil service interns at La Maison. Although she later wants to become a gardener, Pierre serves as an example for her in learning the trade.

Hesitantly, Marie-Hélène indicates that she would like Clotilde to apply for a public competition for a 12-hectare plot of land in Fleury-sur-Orne. “The idea is that people who join us can develop their activities in La Maison”she said.

New home for

Sooner or later, La Maison would have to move 50 meters further east to an abandoned warehouse, nicknamed “Les Tonneaux” because of its shape. Hangar with an area of ​​1200 m2 was saved from demolition in 2016 by Urbact’s “Second Chance” program funded by the European Regional Development Fund, similar to RU:RBAN.

Marie-Helene Denis unveils the site that will soon host the La Maison collective. The metal structure resembles an old warehouse with an area of ​​1200 m.2. | Luca Matteucci

The mission of the Second Chance network was to facilitate exchange between nine European cities (including Dubrovnik, Porto or Liverpool) wishing to give a second life to abandoned buildings of high symbolic value: “sleeping giants”.

“Our sleeping giant was not the warehouse itself, but the peninsula”explains Thomas Bourault, director of the urban planning agency of Caen-Normandie and head of the local group Urbact between 2016 and 2018. “The project must be attractive so that the property sells well”he adds.

Covering an area of ​​40 ha, the Novy Bassin Ecodistrict is designed to accommodate about 2,500 new homes and 35,000 m2 offices, according to the forecast made by the city of Caen. Les Tonneaux will serve as a gateway between the future district and a new tram terminus planned for 2027.

According to Valentin Dieudonné, urban planner of the community of municipalities Cingal-Suisse Normande, and his friend Julien Poisson, a doctoral student at the University of Caen-Normandie, the New Basin should become one of the city’s most popular areas.

Former factory destined to become an art center

In addition to the warehouse, the Urbact Second Chance project developed an action plan to rehabilitate the Tunnel, a former concrete plant, into an arts center. However, in mid-March 2022, four years after the end of the Urbact project in Caen, the building is still closed and no sign of activity. Hastily affixed, opaque plastic plaques obscure the interior of the building.

The former concrete plant was once home to about 30 migrants. They were ousted in 2017. | Luca Matteucci

Several photographs pasted on the walls of the factory show that the building was once occupied by migrant families who pitched their tents here. According to an article in Ouest-France, about thirty refugees, including four families and ten children, were forced out by police in February 2017.

Currently, the warehouse La Maison is to move into looks more like a metal frame than a real house: at the end of the Urbact construction site, the roof and walls were removed to prevent the structure from collapsing in the event of an accident. storm, said Thomas Buro of the city’s planning agency. “We would like our future kitchen to have a roofsmiles Marie-Helene. But we need more money if we are to build it ourselves.”

This article was prepared as part of the Union is Strength competition, which received financial support from the European Union. The article reflects the views of its author and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for its content or use.

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