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Gardens in Rural Areas of Mid-Mountain in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region: Revealing a Relationship to Food in Recomposition

Noé Guiraud, Claire Delfosse, Perrine Vandenbroucke, Philomène Viricel et Laura Munar
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les jardins dans les espaces ruraux de moyenne montagne en Auvergne Rhône-Alpes : les révélateurs d’un rapport à l’alimentaire en recomposition [fr]


Les pratiques jardinières et d’autoconsommation font l’objet de profonds renouvellements en lien avec les transitions alimentaires en cours dans les territoires ruraux dont les territoires montagnards de la région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Les recherches qui commencent à explorer le rôle des jardins dans l’alimentation portent essentiellement sur les jardins en ville. Dans ce contexte, cet article se penche sur le rôle du jardin dans les pratiques alimentaires des populations rurales de moyenne montagne. Nous nous appuyons sur des travaux de recherche menés dans le cadre du projet Jardin’R en région Auvergne Rhône Alpes, au sein de plusieurs territoires de moyenne montagne. Nous montrons en quoi le jardin est une porte d’entrée sur les pratiques individuelles et collectives d’autoconsommation en milieu rural. Puis nous analysons la place de ces pratiques dans les politiques alimentaires conduites sur nos territoires d’étude. Enfin nous montrons que ce réinvestissement des pratiques d’autoconsommation en milieu rural de moyenne montagne conduit à leur valorisation en tant qu’élément du patrimoine alimentaire de ces territoires.

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From Gardens to Self-Consumption in Rural Areas

1Today food issues are widely reinvested by local authorities (Brand, 2015). This mobilization of authorities is a response to changes in citizens’ practices and representations. Several organized territories such as intermunicipalities structures and “territories of project” (e.g., Natural Regional parks) have recently drawn on the development of the “Projet Alimentaire Territoriaux” (PAT; Territorial Food Project) to promote food as a driving force for local development (Loudiyi and Houdard, 2019) and an entry point for the ecological transition. Although rural areas are less visible than cities in PAT (Territorial Food Project) approaches (Maréchal et al., 2018), food practices and representations are recomposing as well (Delfosse, 2019-1; Vandenbroucke and Delfosse, 2019).

2Thanks to a qualitative method, this paper studies self-consumption in a context of reterritorialization of food—an aspect poorly discussed as food is mainly studied through agricultural sectors and food chains. Self-consumption refers first and historically to the self-subsistence of populations (Gojard and Weber, 1995; Quellier, 2004), it helped to prevent from food shortages, and thus to respond to physiological and economic need—especially in contexts of crisis such as the role of gardens in Russia in the 1990s (Boukharaeva and Marloie, 2011; Robert-Bœuf, 2017). Moreover, self-consumption also has a cultural dimension, identified in the modern era through the motivation of a qualitative production of fresh fruits and vegetables by wealthy populations (Quellier, 2004); and in a contemporary way with the practice of vegetable gardening as a leisure activity that is characterized by occasional seasonal self-consumption (Gojard and Weber, 1995). Today this relationship between gardens and food is widely documented in urban areas (Pourrias et al., 2015; Giacchè and Le Caro, 2018; Saint-Ges, 2018; Houde, 2019)—in particular in collective initiatives (Darmon et al., 2019). These studies emphasize the importance of considering the food function of gardens from a quantitative point of view (Marie, 2019) and in a qualitative perspective (Smith & Harrington, 2014; Pourias et al., 2015). Participating in a garden can thus contribute to the diversification of diets (Tharrey et al., 2020), particularly through the social and cultural dimensions of the garden and its ability to encourage the adoption of new food practices (Darmon et al., 2020).

3A priori, studying self-consumption in rural mountain areas is not obvious: gardens refer to the past and to difficult living conditions for the indigenous populations, and the transmission of skills and know-how has been very little. However, we observe a reinvestment in gardening practices by new populations—gardening being linked to the idea of settling to the countryside (Durandard and Delfosse, 2021). This dynamic leads to a revaluation of practices, knowledge and know-how related to self-consumption. This reinvestment is related to current food transitions and the profound transformations rural areas are subjected to (Delfosse, 2019-1).

4Self-consumption encompasses many practices and motivations—in this article, we discuss them all. We consider them to be indicative of a more global relationship to food from three angles: the first is individual self-consumption practices, what are they? The second is their collective appropriation by public policies: what place do they have in the community? The third angle refers to the dynamics of upgrading of the food and landscape heritage of the mid-mountain regions: what transmissions and reinventions around the know-how of self-consumption?

5Our approach focuses not only on vegetable gardens, strictly speaking, but also on orchards and livestock farms. The focus is placed both on individual practices in private gardens and on collective forms of gardens. It is thus from a broad perspective that we draw on the subject of gardens and food in order to understand the social dynamics of reappropriation and transmission of practices and know-how associated with growing, cooking and processing food.

  • 1 The JARDIN’R project is a research-action project funded in 2021 by the Fondation de France, the Éc (...)

6In order to report on the place and role of the garden in food practices of rural populations in mid-mountain areas, we rely on several research fields conducted within the framework of the Jardin’R project, and more specifically on surveys conducted in gardens in the Dieulefit and Bauges regions1. After having briefly presented the characteristics of our case studies, we will discuss the specificities of the garden in the mid-mountains. We will then present the main results of our research regarding the links between gardening practices and self-consumption, their reappropriation by collectivity and by public authorities. To conclude, we will discuss the revival of these practices in the perspective of an upgrading of the food heritage of the rural territories of the mid-mountains.

Gardens in Rural and Mid-Mountain Territories

Analyses and Surveys Carried Out in Different Territories of The AURA Region

7The JARDIN’R project was deployed in 2021 in the Auvergne Rhône Alpes region, in several mid-mountain territories: Ardèche, Cantal, Drôme Provençale, Vercors, Bauges, Chartreuse, Chablais, and Baronnies, not to mention Revermont. These territories are characterized by a great diversity of social and spatial configurations, to which the specificities of the gardening dynamics are closely linked.

8Some territories are strongly polarized by metropolises, such as Chablais-Léman and Chartreuse regions. Others are meshed with medium-sized towns, such as the Bauges, or belong to the remote areas, such as the Cantal, the southern Vercors, or the Baronnies. The region also presents a diversity of garden forms in relation to the different reliefs, climate and water (from high mountains to Provençal climate), as well as to the structure of the built environment (tightly packed towns with gardens on the outskirts, housing estates, scattered housing and gardens close to the house…). Diversity is also found in the socio-professional composition of the population: some regions benefit from a strong demographic attractiveness while others less so (aging, young, working class, gentrified, touristic countryside…) with very contrasting poverty rates (some territories such as the Ardèche have poverty rates higher than the national average). Finally, diversity also comes from the living heritage, local varieties and breeds, and culinary cultures.

Figure 1: Map showing the location of the different research sites on the practice of gardening in rural areas. The numbers also refer to the table.

Figure 1: Map showing the location of the different research sites on the practice of gardening in rural areas. The numbers also refer to the table.
  • 2 The research fields carried out in the PNR des Baronnies Provençale and in the city of Dieulefit we (...)
  • 3 A cartographic booklet gives an account of the dynamics of gardening by territory. Available online (...)

9In the participatory research dynamics of the JARDIN’R project, studies (see table 1) were conducted in these territories with specific questions raised by territorial partners (Regional Natural Parks—PNR, Permanent Centers for Environmental Initiatives—CPIE) or at the interface with POPSU projects2. The methodology was then adapted to the needs of the study: surveys of individual gardeners, collective project leaders, communities, spatial and landscape analysis. In addition, a common reading grid enabled to show the nature and diversity of gardening dynamics3. Overall, 80 collective approaches and 60 private gardens were studied.

  • 4 The analysis of the initiatives of upgrading of orchards in Chartreuse is still in progress.

Table 1: Presentation of the mid-mountain territories where surveys were conducted on gardening practices in rural areas4.

Mid-mountain territories

Typology of rural areas

Private and collective gardens surveyed (N=140)

Types of collective gardens identified

Thematic approach adopted in the case study

(1) PNR des Baronnies Provençales

Isolated rural and seasonal attractiveness (tourism)


allotment garden

“Gardens and being healthy in one’s territory”

community garden

Educational garden

inclusion garden

(2) Communauté de communes Dieulefit Bourdeaux

Residential (positive net migration) and seasonal (tourism) attractiveness


allotment garden

“Gardens, self-consumption and food resilience of the territory”

community garden

Educational garden

(3) PNR du Massif des Bauges

Residential attractiveness (positive net migration) and urban land pressure (territories close to large cities)


allotment garden

“Gardens, food and landscape heritage”

community garden

Educational garden

inclusion garden

(4) Haute-Savoie—Massif du Chablais

Rural under metropolitan influence (Geneva and Lausanne) and upstream winter tourism


allotment garden

“Gardening practices and resources conservation”

community garden

(5) Jura—Revermont

Suburbanization gradient (Bourg-en-Bresse). Industrial employment in some territories


allotment garden

“Gardens, from food to landscape, social, environmental, heritage and land functions”

community garden

Garden and conservatory orchard

(6) Cantal—Bassin d’Aurillac et de Saint Flour

Isolated rural and precarious population


allotment garden

“Gardens and poverty”

community garden

Educational garden

inclusion garden

(7) Communauté de communes du Massif du Vercors

Residential (positive net migration) and seasonal (tourism) attractiveness


allotment garden

“Collective dynamics and integration of gardens into urban planning”

community garden

Educational garden

inclusion garden

(8) Ardèche méridionale

Demographic decline (negative net migration) and seasonal attractiveness (tourism)


allotment garden

“Gardens and poverty”

community garden

Educational garden

inclusion garden

10This paper is based on some results of research which was conducted as part of the field studies conducted in the Bauges massif and in the Dieulefit— Bourdeaux area of the Drôme region, where the issues are more explicitly related to food. In these two territories, a census of gardening practices (vegetable gardens and orchards) and livestock farms was conducted—by questionnaire sent to the municipalities and intermunicipalities of the perimeter of the Natural Regional Park of the Massif des Bauges, and by field observation (cartographic analysis, walks, door to door) according to a territorial gradient in Dieulefit-Bourdeaux where the census was carried out on the three perimeters of a city of 3,154 inhabitants (Dieulefit), a small town of 653 inhabitants (Bourdeaux), and a village with a scattered habitat of a few dozen inhabitants (Orcinas).

  • 5 The number of gardeners in this table differs from the number of interviews presented at the beginn (...)
  • 6 More than half of the municipalities of the Natural Regional Park (63%) carry out an action related (...)

11Once the initiatives were identified, semi-directive interviews were conducted with individual gardeners (7 in the Bauges, 24 in Dieulefit-Bourdeaux), collective gardeners (12 and 3), local authorities (4 and 2) as well as gardening professionals (4 and 2) and farmers (12 in Dieulefit). These interviews enabled the description of gardening initiative, of the issues this project faces, and to encompass the different actors’ profiles (table 2)5 and their motivations. In Dieulefit-Bourdeaux, the interviews were conducted as part of field research in order to dimension self-production with the gardener, and to characterize practices of exchange, transformation, consumption and conservation of the products. In the Massif des Bauges, an analysis of urban planning documents, in particular the Scot (territorial coherence programs), territorial climate-air-energy plans (PCAET), landscape plans and territorial food projects (PAT) was carried out to characterize the place of gardens in public policies6.

Table 2: profiles of the gardeners interviewed (age, gender, occupation).

Profiles of gardeners interviewed


Dieulefit Bourdeaux













0-20 y



20-30 y



30-40 y



40-50 y



50-60 y



60-70 y



70 y and more



















Gardening professional



Food industry



Care sector






Local governments



Specificities of Gardens in Mid-Mountain Areas

  • 7 For the Alps, we can cite the work of Raoul Blanchard and his students on pastoral lifestyles betwe (...)

12Gardens, vegetable gardens, orchards and small farms are important forms of the rural food landscape. In the mountain regions, this is observed in particular through the presence of fruit trees, gardens around villages and farms, and even isolated garden plots, but also farmyards. Numerous works conducted by geographers from the 1930s to the 1960s and by sociologists7 attest the importance of gardens and self-consumption practices in the mountain regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. The mountain pasture garden, for example, is a specific mountainous form: the production of vegetables was even more necessary if the whole family was summering, as it was practiced in the small alpine mountains (the Reblochon mountains) or in the jasseries of the Hautes Chaumes in Forez. These summering practices implied a system of water and manure management that can still be observed in the landscape. Finally, this ancient importance of gardens is attested by the place given to sellers of garden surpluses in mid-mountain towns or on the edge of the mountains, such as in Chambéry (Poche, 1980) and Bourg-en-Bresse. We were able to observe this during the summer at markets in Bourdeaux (Drôme), Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain) and Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire).

13Gardening in the mountains is constrained by the slope, to the point that it is common during sales to mention the relief of the field. The slope leads to the establishment of gardens on terraces sometimes not adjoining the dwelling or to the terracing of the individual garden (fig.2). We can also note the decisive impact of the presence of water in those mountains, which explains, in connection with the sunshine, the location of the gardens on the scale of the village and its finage.

14The relief determines microclimates and a characterization of the slopes according to the sunshine. In that respect, cultivating a vegetable garden on a south-facing slope may favor certain crops over others. But the hot and dry mountain (the Southern Alps, in particular the Baronnies in our case study) does not have only advantages and requires a management of water and shade, hence the location of gardens on shaded slopes and close to water (Orpierre in the Baronnies). Whereas the “cold” mountains (the Jura Alps in particular the Bauges massif here, as well as the Haute Ardèche) will determine a short vegetative period and will require a strategy of orientation of the garden, to seek the heat of the sunny slopes. The climatic complexity of these territories also determines the use of varieties and shelters and micro greenhouses to play on the vegetative periods. For example, gardeners surveyed in the Ardèche are working to acclimatize tomato varieties to the colder climate. Finally, the mountains imply particularly important climatic amplitudes: we have observed greenhouses with climbing vines that do not limit the sun in winter and spring, but which provide shade during summer.

15The practice of gardening in mid-mountains implies an adaptation to specific conditions which can be very different in a small area, and consequently there is a specific seed and fruit diversity. Diversity is also due to migrations: the Italian immigration in the Vercors is at the origin of the Vercors grey hen breed. This domestic biodiversity constitutes a wealth that is mobilized today for heritage purposes, but also for food policies and adaptation to climate change.

Figure 2: Photographs of different types of mid-mountain gardens in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

Figure 2: Photographs of different types of mid-mountain gardens in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

Individual and Collective Reappropriation of the Food Garden: From Self-Consumption to Territorial Issues

  • 8 Statistically, self-consumption refers to the consumption of food from one's own production (vegeta (...)
  • 9 According to INSEE the share of households that self-consume has decreased from 34% in 1985 to 23% (...)
  • 10 Farming households (active or retired) self-consume much more frequently than other households: 61% (...)

16Overall, the importance of self-production and self-consumption8 in the inhabitants’ practices remains a blind spot in the research field of the reterritorialization of food systems. The few studies on this topic identify a practice that affects between 20 and 30% of the national population9, that is more important in rural than in urban areas, and that is more frequent among farmers10 (Escalon, Bossard, and Beck 2009; ANSES 2017; Demoly and Schweitzer, 2021). Domestic gardening practices are therefore still quite widespread in rural areas where 42% of households have a vegetable garden and/or an orchard (Demoly and Schweitzer, 2021). Although their production is generally modest in relation to the food budget (Caillavet et al., 2009), it can be a significant addition to the food basket of certain households, and can also be the source of exchanges between gardeners, or even occasional sales.

Self-Consumption—a Widespread Practice But an Uneven Intensity

  • 11 The evaluation of self-consumption was carried out by asking respondents to estimate the fate of th (...)

17On the scale of the overall household shopping basket, self-consumption represents a small share of expenditures. The majority of gardeners we met buy food that they also produce in the garden11. However, on the scale of fruits and vegetables or eggs, self-consumption represents a significant part, even the majority for some (see annual model below). In France, INSEE measures that self-consumed vegetables represent on average 23% of the budget for vegetables consumed at home (purchases and self-consumption) by all households.

18We identify three scales of self-consumption in rural areas (fig. 3): self-production at the level of home garden (including orchards and livestock farms), the scale enabled by the exchanges, gifts and counter-gifts at the community level, and the third one more broadly induced by non-productive practices such as gathering, gleaning, fishing and hunting, which are practices organized at the territorial level.

Figure 3: Diagram of self-consumption in rural areas

Figure 3: Diagram of self-consumption in rural areas

N. Guiraud - 2022

19In the survey conducted in Dieulefit-Bourdeaux region, people with a vegetable garden, an orchard and/or a small livestock farm, occasionally or regularly self-consume vegetables, fruits, eggs and meat depending on their level of production, seasons and exchanges. There is thus a gradient of self-consumption intensity that varies according to different factors such as the gardener’s goals, skills, seasonality, and type of self-production (Pourias, 2014). Survey work in the Dieulefit-Bourdeaux intermunicipality (see Table 1) highlighted different degrees of self-production based on three main factors: productive diversity, temporal amplitude, and levels of self-sufficiency.

20This fieldwork (Viricel, 2021) was carried out in a territory with a strong residential and tourist attraction, notably a very high rate of secondary residences (between 20 and 50% depending on the municipality), the following results must be interpreted in this perspective. We assume that in other more remote and/or less attractive mid-mountain areas the intensity of self-consumption may be higher. However, based on the survey of 21 gardeners in the Dieulefit-Bourdeaux region, and following the example of the work of J. Pourias (2014), two models of self-consumption can be distinguished with, on one hand, only seasonal consumption of garden products and, on the other hand, conservation practices that allow for consumption throughout the year.

  • Seasonal model (13 gardeners out of 21)

    • Gardeners whose production is insufficient during the production period. Food is purchased even though it is also produced in the garden: 11/21 gardeners. Among them, 7 have surpluses for some products that they process for the rest of the year. However, the volumes are anecdotal. Only one gardener is autonomous in eggs.

    • Gardeners whose production is sufficient during the production period; purchases only contribute to diversify the diet. Surpluses are processed for the rest of the year, but volumes are anecdotal: 2/21 gardeners;

  • Annual model (8 gardeners out of 21)

    • Gardeners whose production is sufficient to process and preserve food but not enough to consume throughout the year: 3/21 gardeners;

    • Gardeners whose production is sufficient throughout the year for at least part of the food, purchases are made more or less episodically to supplement and diversify: 5/21 gardeners.

21Garden production participates in exchanges and donations, due to surpluses or transformation practices. A gardener in Bourdeaux explains that every week about twenty eggs are left on her windowsill by acquaintances who have too many, and that she herself gives the surplus she receives to neighbors to avoid waste. To a lesser extent, and as Maxime Marie notes in urban context (Marie, 2019), informal commercial practices exist and consist of selling surpluses on open-air markets, as well as through social networks, especially in the summer for fruits and vegetables. This was the trajectory of professionalization of a respondent who now calls herself a market gardener and sells her products on open-air markets.

  • 12 The article by Perrine Vandenbroucke and Claire Delfosse (2019) shows that this practice is also be (...)

22The self-production of meat, on the other hand, frequently involves collective practices with neighbors, friends and/or within the extended family. Both eggs and meat encourage networking, especially with neighbors. In the case of big animals such as sheep or pigs, the killing of the animal is usually an opportunity to gather people together. This is also the case when the wool shearer comes, which is a spectacle for the neighborhood in the case of a couple with a few sheep. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that self-production of meat has greatly diminished in practice. A farmer, who also kills pigs and whom we met during the survey, explains that while he killed 7 pigs this year, 40 years ago, three killers killed 300 pigs a year in the same area. The self-consumption of meat is an inherited practice specific to the agricultural context that is still present and tends to be reinvested by new type of inhabitants, but at the margin (Vandenbroucke, Delfosse, 2019; Sallen 2021)12. In the surveyed panel, the majority of gardeners we met who raise animals for their meat consumption have a link with the agricultural world.

23Our survey in the Drôme Provençale shows that neo-rural farmers are contributing to the renewal of self-consumption practices and that the intensity of these practices is not limited to the farming community. In the Massif des Bauges, as in the Dieulefit-Bourdeaux region, citizens’ initiatives between neighbors are being organized to work in community gardens. Some plots are reinvested in order to contribute to food, but also motivated by the desire to work together. This is what we observed in the Bauges massif where several neighbors decided to clean up an overgrown meadow with the agreement of the farmer and to share a plot of potatoes. Today, five villages are experimenting with collective potato cultivation, benefiting an average of 5 families per village and relying on the loan of land by farmers. A similar approach was observed in Dieulefit. Growing potatoes for several households is an inherited rural gardening practice (Garçon, 2015; Munar, 2021) that is, here in the Bauges and in Drôme provençale reinvested by inhabitants of non-agricultural origin and mostly of urban origin, for whom the collective practice is central to their motivation. These gardening practices underline the existence of hybridity between traditional forms of self-production and more contemporary motivations carried by the inhabitants, which we characterized as being mostly those of neo-rural people.

Forms of collective reinvestment

24Self-consumption of food drives collective and citizen reappropriation. A cross-sectional analysis of the 80 collective initiatives (see table) of gardens/orchards in the study areas reveals three main dimensions in the projects.

25The social dimension is, first of all, asserted in projects of therapeutic gardens, of economic integration, then of shared gardens of animation and social integration. Food is not always central to these projects, but the integration gardens, like those of the Cocagne network, play a key role in providing access to fresh local produce in certain outlying areas, such as the eastern Baronnies. From 2012 to 2019, the regional CPIEs have conducted, in partnership with social actors, various actions of support and animation in the gardens and around the kitchen for the precarious public13. Social centers are also creating gardens, such as the one in Saint-Laurent-du-Pont in Chartreuse (Ballot, 2021). In several communities or allotment gardens, some plots are intended for people living in poverty and sometimes for migrants (Elles, 2021; Louchard, 2021). Finally, community gardens help people living in poverty by giving them part of their harvest (Munar, 2021).

26This movement is supported by sharing and transmission of know-how issues. Making seeds, pruning and grafting fruit trees, passing on gardening techniques, discovering the principles of permaculture… the transmission of know-how is at the heart of many collective initiatives, associations, exchange networks or community gardens, as well as of individual gardeners or professionals who integrate an educational dimension in their approach to sharing and transmitting their know-how. This is the case of the association Graine d’Horti in Dieulefit, which offers access to a participatory garden where a retired market gardener passes on his know-how to 25 people. Some of them have never gardened, others know a little more about it. Together they participate in all tasks and gardeners share the harvest.

27Lastly, a third dimension is recently asserting itself, regarding food autonomy and resilience and in connection with the challenges of the global ecological and social transition. Some inhabitants we met in the Massif des Bauges or in the Dieulefit-Bourdeaux area asserted that gardening represents a first level of commitment in food transitions. A second level consists in cultivating plots collectively, thus drawing inspiration from ancient practices. Self-consumption also takes a central place in collective eco-hamlet projects, like in the eco-hamlet of Ecoravie in Dieulefit where there is a large vegetable garden, a dozen laying hens and fruit trees. Their approach leads them to plan a market garden production aiming at producing a significant quantity of vegetables for inhabitants of the place as well as neighbors, and, eventually, to take in charge a salaried gardener.

Reinvestment of gardens in public policies

  • 14 Natural Regional Parks of Nord Pas-de-Calais including Avesnois, Cap et Marais d'Opale, Bauges...
  • 15 Data from DRAAF AURA. The other projects outside the Lyon metropolitan area are carried out by soci (...)

28In rural areas, vegetable gardens are a structuring component in the development of towns and country farms. The place of the vegetable garden, the orchard and small livestock farms then declined, under the combined effect of residential development, the requalification of the garden around its function of leisure to the detriment of the self-consumption vegetable garden, and the process of modernization and agricultural specialization. Some Regional Nature Parks14 used the place of orchards in their territories to promote landscapes, particularly from the 1980s-1990s onwards and more significantly from the 2000s-2010s (Delfosse, 2016) onwards. The development of collective gardens, in the Rhône-Alpes region and then in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, was supported by the structuring of a regional associative network led by Passe Jardins in support of project setup and engineering until 2015. A significant mobilization of municipalities is observed in rural areas for the development of collective gardens. In the Massif des Bauges, half of the collective initiatives around community gardens, allotments or orchards are deployed on municipal land (Munar 2021). In 2021, in the AURA region, out of the 83 projects funded outside of the Lyon metropolis under measure 11 of the “France Relance” call for projects for “Community gardens”, 40 were led by municipalities15. The role of gardens is also being reaffirmed by municipalities as a way to make town centers more attractive, a process encouraged by the “Small Towns of Tomorrow” program. More recently and more marginally, gardens were included on an intermuncipality scale within the framework of Territorial Food Projects (PAT). In that respect, the Territorial Food Project Aubenas-Val de Ligne has included the strategic objective “Encourage self-consumption through family and community gardens” under the priority “Local and quality consumption for citizens”. Indeed, the support of gardens enables to mobilize and involve inhabitants in the PATs. However, if some PATs support local projects, we rarely see structuring policies that go as far as integrating gardens into urban planning strategies, as is the case in the intermunicipality of the Aubenas basin. On the contrary, their place in other mid-mountain territories is rather questioned on the basis of aesthetic considerations and local socio-political issues, as is the case in the Vercors on the territory of the intermunicipality of the “Four mountains” where several community garden projects are locally controversial.

29Thus, self-consumption practices are being reinvested by individuals, groups and public policies. This movement participates in the transmission and reinvestment of a material (buildings, seeds, tools, landscapes, etc.) and immaterial (knowledge, know-how, stories, etc.) heritage.

From Self-Consumption to Food Heritage

30In the countryside, the practice of gardening is no longer the prerogative of the farming community, or of those whom Cyprien Durandard and Claire Delfosse (2021) refer to as the “heirs”, but it is a factor of attraction for populations of from urban areas and bearers of new expectations: to feed oneself better, to relearn gestures, to improve one’s food self-sufficiency, to maintain privileged links with nature, with one’s neighborhood, etc. Thus, the various accounts of the respondents underline the rise of “leisure” gardening, rather in the summer; but also the reinvestment of rural self-consumption practices, and even the introduction of new practices aimed to achieve food autonomy on small surfaces. Self-consumption is also the support of collective projects: groups of citizens around the garden, associative networks, such as grain libraries, solidarity practices between inhabitants, collective reinvestment around orchards, etc.

31The valorization of food heritage is not new, particularly in relation to gardens and orchards. “Les Croqueurs de pommes”, a national association created in 1978, has been working for a long time to promote fruit heritage, and associations for the preservation of fruit varieties are present all over the mid-mountain regions of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. This type of association created conservatory orchards, grafting courses or planting of fruit trees of local variety. A renewed interest in food heritage was observed through the organization of festivals, exchange networks (seed bartering, associations promoting the learning of technical gestures), training (grafting courses) or even the establishment of relationships between gardeners and market gardeners or owners of unused gardens and orchards. In addition, most of the Natural Regional Parks in our study area (Mont d’Ardèche, Bauges, Chartreuse, Vercors, Baronnies) value domestic biodiversity (Delfosse, 2016), through actions carried out by “amateur” gardeners. In that respect, food heritage is thus both an environmental and a cultural heritage: in our study, actions were sometimes carried out for the purpose of landscape preservation and biodiversity conservation, as in the Bauges (pre-orchard landscapes), but also for the “revival” of local products, or simply for food enhancement. The Natural Regional Park of Bauges has set up an itinerant press, and in Orpierre in the Baronnies, a market of old fruits promotes fruit production, but also the know-how of transformation and conservation of these products. The new generations are revisiting old techniques such as fruit drying.

32As part of an inventory of intangible cultural heritage and a European Interreg program on Alpine Food Heritage, the Bauges Regional Park is carrying out a participatory collection which consider—beside ancient practices—the evolution of recipes and integrate the “neo-rural population”—a term used in the inventory (The knowledge of the vegetable garden in the Bauges Massif) to designate new comers to rural territories in successive waves (Palisse, 2006). This participatory approach is also the one chosen by the Chartreuse Regional Natural Park to identify traditional seed and varieties of the Massif: the collection involves gardeners, the Regional Center of Applied Botany and the horticultural high school of Saint-Ismier in the suburbs of Grenoble, and is linked to the desire to install market gardeners and a nurseryman in the Massif. In that respect, this approach is strongly integrated into the park’s food policy. Lastly, the Natural Regional Park of Vercors has been working from the 2000s onwards on the revival of the Vercors Grey Hen—not in a territorial approach through “terroir”—but with the aim of promoting local food and enhancing the domestic animal biodiversity. This approach involves amateurs and aims to the installation of a breeder who would make direct sales on the massif and towards the city near Grenoble (Delfosse, 2010; Poisson and Delfosse, 2012).


33This article highlights a renewed interest in gardens in rural areas. If the issues around which this requalification is taking place are multiple (urbanistic, social, cultural), food is not left out. In the rural areas of the mid-mountain region that we analyzed, there is indeed 1) a renewed interest (whether social, cultural or economic) in food autonomy, 2) the reinvention of collective self-production practices, and 3) the reinvestment of the food heritage through domestic biodiversity, gardening, culinary and processing knowledge and know-how. Our approach, from the individual scale to the community and public policy scales, suggests the importance of a multi-scalar reading of the links between gardens and food. Indeed, a narrow reading of the quantities consumed would have the dynamics of learning, exchanges, gifts and counter-gifts of vegetables, but above all of seeds invisible. These dynamics appeared to be particularly rich in the mid-mountain areas we studied, and more particularly linked to a traditional food heritage that needs to be revalued.

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1 The JARDIN’R project is a research-action project funded in 2021 by the Fondation de France, the École urbaine de Lyon and the POPSU Territoires platform. The project is coordinated by Claire Delfosse and Perrine Vandenbroucke.

2 The research fields carried out in the PNR des Baronnies Provençale and in the city of Dieulefit were funded by the POPSU Territories platform within the framework of a call for participatory action research projects on new territorial narratives for small towns and rural territories.

3 A cartographic booklet gives an account of the dynamics of gardening by territory. Available online on the website of the Rural Studies Laboratory:

4 The analysis of the initiatives of upgrading of orchards in Chartreuse is still in progress.

5 The number of gardeners in this table differs from the number of interviews presented at the beginning of the paragraph, because an interview was conducted with a couple of gardeners, also because an interview did not concern a gardener but a public, associative or economic actor.

6 More than half of the municipalities of the Natural Regional Park (63%) carry out an action related to gardens and 53% of them identify an interest expressed by their inhabitants (Munar, 2021).

7 For the Alps, we can cite the work of Raoul Blanchard and his students on pastoral lifestyles between the two world wars, and more recently, for example, the thesis of Jean Miège on rural life in the Alpine furrow (1961), or for the Hautes Chaumes du Forez, the sociology thesis of M. Damon, Les jasseries des Monts du Forez, Thesis, Doctorate in Rural Sociology, University of Lyon, 1971, reprinted in Village de Forez, Centre Social de Montbrison, 2004, 132 p.

8 Statistically, self-consumption refers to the consumption of food from one's own production (vegetable garden, livestock) or from one's own gathering, hunting or fishing or from those of a close friend, family member, neighbor... during a given period (ANSES, 2017) regardless of its extent.

9 According to INSEE the share of households that self-consume has decreased from 34% in 1985 to 23% in 2006.

10 Farming households (active or retired) self-consume much more frequently than other households: 61% compared to 20% of all households.

11 The evaluation of self-consumption was carried out by asking respondents to estimate the fate of their crops. This enables us to quantify them and to understand what they represent in household consumption (seasonal or annual). The following practices were considered: direct consumption, processing and preservation (including freezing and canning), selling, bartering, and giving and receiving.

12 The article by Perrine Vandenbroucke and Claire Delfosse (2019) shows that this practice is also being reinvested today in the Pilat. On the role and place of small-scale livestock farming, see Aurélie Sallen's dissertation on a more peri-urban context, that of the Coteaux et Monts du Lyonnais (Sallen, 2021)

13 Aliment’Terre Program :

14 Natural Regional Parks of Nord Pas-de-Calais including Avesnois, Cap et Marais d'Opale, Bauges...

15 Data from DRAAF AURA. The other projects outside the Lyon metropolitan area are carried out by social and socio-cultural centers and youth and cultural centers (17), by associations (22) and, more marginally, by landlords or inter-municipalities (4).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Map showing the location of the different research sites on the practice of gardening in rural areas. The numbers also refer to the table.
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Titre Figure 2: Photographs of different types of mid-mountain gardens in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
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Titre Figure 3: Diagram of self-consumption in rural areas
Crédits N. Guiraud - 2022
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Référence électronique

Noé Guiraud, Claire Delfosse, Perrine Vandenbroucke, Philomène Viricel et Laura Munar, « Gardens in Rural Areas of Mid-Mountain in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region: Revealing a Relationship to Food in Recomposition »Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 110-2 | 2022, mis en ligne le 18 décembre 2022, consulté le 28 janvier 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Noé Guiraud

Géographe, École Urbaine de Lyon, Université Lyon 2, Laboratoire d’Études Rurales

Claire Delfosse

Université Lyon 2, Laboratoire d’Études Rurales

Articles du même auteur

Perrine Vandenbroucke

ISARA Lyon, Laboratoire d’Études Rurales

Philomène Viricel

Université Lyon 2, Laboratoire d’Études rurales

Laura Munar

Université Lyon 3, Laboratoire d’Études rurales

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