Jun 19 2010

Navigating life without AMAP

Okay, so first, a confession: we have left the farm and are officially in Paris, where we are staying in a lovely apartment of a couple who are currently staying in NYC (thanks, Mom & Dad) in a house swap. It is a way of traveling that I highly recommend — an apartment with a roof deck in Paris, with three separate boulangeries within a block’s distance, for free? Amazing.

But there are still more tales from the farm to tell. Like, for example, AMAP deliveries. An AMAP is French for “association pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne.” (Which I suppose is still French — in English, it’s an association for the preservation of family farming.) AMAPs are kind of like CSAs in the States (community supported agriculture programs) where you sign up for a season’s worth of boxes of vegetables and fruit from a local farm.

But just as a baguette in America is an inferior version of a baguette in France, CSAs have nothing on their AMAP counterparts. An AMAP, you see, is far more than vegetables. Depending on the farmers in your area, you can place orders for everything from cheese, yogurt and milk to bread, honey, meat, and even beer. Each week you then show up at your friendly AMAP delivery spot and pick up your week’s produce directly from the person who made it.

It’s funny, first, to see the French version of a Berkeley farmer’s market (bizarrely, hippies in France don’t bother me nearly as much as those in California — white people with dreadlocks are somehow not as annoying when they’re speaking French). But second, it was truly lovely to see Laurent’s interactions with his customers — chatting with his AMAP customers was clearly one of the highlights of his week.

I think he’d invited us to tag along with him because his radio was broken, and so we did our best to keep him entertained, Peter singing nonsense songs in English about what he’d be like if he were a dinosaur, and me asking about the details of the AMAP contract system. Things went relatively smoothly until our last delivery, after which point Laurent offered to buy us a beer, so we pulled his green delivery truck up to a bar advertising pool and drank Desperados — some kind of sweet beer that has definitely not made its way to the US — as we watched a Madonna video. (It mostly involved her straddling the camera and saying something about Hollywood — Laurent was both confused and intrigued.)

Problems began when we hit our first roundabout. Peter and I had been responsible for restacking the boxes of empty jam jars and milk bottles in the back of the truck and, on our way out, Laurent had seemed to take a rather nonchalant attitude toward how secure they needed to be. I’m still not sure what the precise answer to that question is, but I do know that we did not arrange them securely enough, because as Laurent steered around the circle, we heard a large crashing sound in the back followed by the tinkle of broken glass.

We were silent, nervously waiting from a response from Laurent, who paused for about three seconds and then started laughing. (This is why we love him.) Up came another roundabout. CRASH. Tinkle tinkle tinkle.

By this point, we were all giggling uncontrollably, goaded on every time we heard the clinking of glass shard against glass. The previous night at dinner, we’d been taking bets on whether the goat with the lung infection would make it through the night (gallows humor on the farm) — so we followed that with a round of bets on how many bottles had shattered into pieces in the back.

The answer? Quite a few, which became obvious when we reached the farm and opened the sliding door to yet another tinkle of glass falling onto the cement patio. But no big deal. We swept it up, restacked the unbroken bottles and their coolers, and went in to deliver a special pasteque — watermelon — to Isabelle, who was delighted at the face Peter had drawn on it in permanent marker with a speech bubble saying “Bonjour, Isabelle!” A fantastic evening all around.