Today at the market, farmers told jokes about the cold, grey weather and their static crops, the kind of jokes that hide tears. And the elders here say they haven’t seen a time without light as long as this in years. Combine that with the world political situation, and the gloom hovering at the edges is understandable.
I found a glorious antidote to the gloom, though, at the 50th Salon d’Agriculture in Paris. There, the unmistakable wealth of France is assembled. From artisanal sausage makers to oyster growers, cheese makers and bread bakers, honey producers and candy makers, they’re there by the hundreds.
With them are cows, pigs, sheep and goats who are moved from time to time, just as they are in pastures, with the ringing of bells and the shouts of their keepers. Everything at the Salon d’Agriculture is authentic – you have to be careful where you step after one of these gentle pilgrimages.
I find it impossible not to be optimistic when I’m around farmers and producers. Maybe I’ve got my head in the sand, but I think not. I simply believe in the hope exhibited by people who work hard and produce gorgeous food.
Take the young Corsican pig farmer who took me aside to carefully explain just exactly how he cures his succulent sausages and hams; the laughing “monk” with his Tête de Moine (Monk’s’ Head) cheese who suddenly became serious when he said “Of course we only use raw milk; look, we’ve gotten the highest honors for our cheese,”; the young woman making crêpes who lit up as she describe the hand-milled flour used in the batter.
The Salon d’Agriculture attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year as they wander to touch the gigantic , prize-winning Salers cattle, fondle the heads of sheep whose milk goes into Basque cheese, or coo over the baby goats. People come to get close to something real and authentic. They come to be reassured that even when the world seems to be spinning out of control, farmers and producers are keeping it on its axis, by getting up each morning to feed their animals, make their cheese, bread, sausage, and wine, harvest their oysters and, generally do the good work.