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Livestock Farming in Relations between Urban Districts and the Mountains – The Case Of Grenoble

Jean-Baptiste Grison, Bernard Pecqueur, Claire Delfosse et Pierre Le Gall
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les filières de l’élevage dans les relations entre métropole et montagne – le cas de Grenoble [fr]


Cet article s’intéresse à la manière dont les filières agroalimentaires de montagne périurbaine sont en lien avec la métropole, à partir du cas de Grenoble et des massifs de l’Isère qui encadrent la ville. Dans un premier temps, une lecture historique permet de mettre en évidence l’évolution, sur le temps long, des relations entre l’élevage et la ville, avec le passage d’un contexte de pression sur l’approvisionnement de celle-ci en produits frais (particulièrement le lait), à une dé-territorialisation progressive des filières et, plus récemment, des évolutions favorisant de plus en plus les filières locales. Cette recomposition est analysée, en deuxième partie, en observant les rôles des acteurs à différents niveaux de la vie des produits, de l’agriculteur au consommateur. On montre ainsi que les agriculteurs de la montagne périurbaine ont considérablement changé leurs modèles de production pour s’adapter aux nouvelles demandes de la ville proche. Dans une troisième partie, nous proposons une lecture géographique de ces relations ville-montagne par l’élevage, dans laquelle nous montrons que les massifs entourant Grenoble n’ont pas tous la même relation avec la ville. En conclusion, nous affirmons que les relations entre élevage de montagne et métropole s’inscrivent dans l’interterritorialité, mais aussi qu’elle permet l’émergence de modèles agricoles et de circuits agroalimentaires spécifiques.

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This work received state aid managed by the National Research Agency (l’Agence nationale de la recherche) under the “France 2030” program bearing the reference ANR-15-IDEX-0002.

The surveys necessary for this study were carried out within the framework of the ELMAGE programme (Élevage et Métropole de montagne : Aménagement, Gestion, Environnement), funded by Labex ITTEM.


1The new regional dynamics associated with agri-food chains, stimulated by renewed interest in “eating local” no longer need to be demonstrated. Against this backdrop, the weight of local in the food supply of cities has regained a certain importance, but raises the question of what can actually be considered as “local”. Obviously, the producer to consumer relationship between the production area and the consumption area can be examined, in the context of the growth of local channels, as a sign of strong interregional relations between the city and its productive surrounding areas (Baysse-Lainé, 2017). These interregional relations are part of agri-food ecosystems integrating the functions of production and consumption. The structuring of these functions refers to the concept of “systèmes alimentaires” as defined in the 1990s by Louis Malassis: “how people organise themselves in space and time to obtain and consume their food” (Malassis, 1994); it was developed over the next decade in English-speaking literature under the term “food systems” (Marsden and Murdoch 2006, Morgan 2013) which reinterprets productive systems by encompassing the various functions of production to consumption throughout the process that goes from “farm to table”. These food systems apply to areas that therefore include the end consumer and in particular the city where these consumers are concentrated. The coexistence and confrontation of agricultural models can lead us to reflect on the emergence of a new paradigm of regional development as proposed by the publishers of a recent collective work (Gasselin, et al., 2021). The question then arises, for cities, of “food sheds” (Chiffoleau et al., 2020), i.e., the space used for the production and consumption of urban food. In some respects, the term “area of embeddedness” may be used (Woillez, 2014). The question of the role of proximity in this regional arrangement then arises: to what extent are agricultural areas close to the city mobilised to feed it?

2For Nicolas Bricas (2017), an urban food ecosystem can be defined in the first analysis as a “set of interrelated activities of production, circulation and use of food and waste and the resources they need” (Bricas 2017). There are four basic functions projected onto a concrete area: Production, Processing, Distribution, Consumption. In our analysis, the system encompasses the Grenoble conurbation and the mountain areas surrounding it (Chartreuse, Vercors, Belledonne). This system is part of a built-up area or region as shown in the diagram below (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Schematic representation of an urban food system

Figure 1 – Schematic representation of an urban food system

By: M. Marie, UMR ESO, FRUGAL, 2016, according to Brand and Bonnefoy, 2011

3The département of Isère possesses both a large urban structure (more than one million inhabitants, and the eleventh largest French urban area) and a still dense and diversified agricultural fabric (nearly 5,000 farms). This diversity remains present at the gates of the Grenoble urban district: the bottoms of the valley of the “Grenoble Y” are suitable for market gardening, while the nearby mountain ranges are mainly reserved for extensive livestock farming, making it relatively unique on a national scale (usually the market gardening belt is larger).

  • 1 The département is both second in the number of farmers’ shops (just behind the Rhône), and second (...)

4A dynamic département, both from an urban and agricultural point of view, Isère is also identified as an area where short supply chains are well represented1. Usually, they are more linked to market gardening than to livestock farming. Grenoble’s particular case where there is a lot of peri-urban livestock farming poses the hypothesis of the specific development of short supply chains associated with livestock farming.

5The question of relations between the Métropole and the mountains, on the scale of the urban area of Grenoble and the neighbouring mountains, clearly raises the question of links to livestock farming. It also points to the scope of supply and cooperation. In the field of public action, the integration of areas of interregional cooperation largely covers the need for cooperation. In the academic world, the concepts of interregionality or regional reciprocity have been developed since the early 21st century. The first, based on the observation of the multipolarisation of peri-urban municipalities, defines “interface zones that take on their own importance and escape unique dependency on an urban area” (Vanier, 2005). The second proposes to move away from a centre-periphery vision that is simply hierarchical, but to consider that “it is economic and social complementarity, the residential and productive quality of this whole that ensures its joint development” (Talandier, 2014).

6Through this article, we propose to take back ownership of these operational and conceptual parameters through the prism of the livestock farming sectors and associated productions connected to the supply of the urban district. What is the impact of urban proximity in the orientation of livestock production on the Grenoble urban district and on the neighbouring mountains? How do the relationships between production and distribution of livestock products fit into specific regional configurations? What do they tell us about interregional relations between Grenoble and the Isère mountains? Finally, how does the evolution of the urban ecosystem contribute to the development of a new paradigm of regional development (Gasselin et al., 2021)? However, we will try to show that the case of Isère presents “false geographical self-evidence” (see figure 3): the three mountain ranges surrounding the Grenoble “basin” could suggest that there is one single urban food system. Field observations actually show the existence of the relative autonomy of the mountains from the city.

  • 2 This research was supported by the Labex ITTEM. It also builds on work that has been carried out up (...)

7The ideas expressed in this article are based on field surveys conducted in 2019 and 2020, with farmers and marketing locations, as well as internet and bibliographic searches of marketing locations2. The investigations have made it possible to reconstruct the production systems associated with livestock farming in the mountain areas close to the Grenoble urban district. A mapping of farmers in local sectors makes it possible to distinguish the different forms of regionality of the livestock sectors in relation to the urban district of Grenoble.

The Food Transitions of Livestock Farming between City and Mountains: An Historical Interpretation

8The supply of Grenoble, a mountain city, deserves to be seen from a historical perspective. It will show the different “food transitions” that have affected it and what role its position as a mountain city could play (Figure 2).

The Creation of Grenoble’s “Food Suburb” and Its Difficulties in Sourcing Drinking Milk 

  • 3 By this, the author means fresh produce demanded by urban dwellers.

9With the development of cities and the evolution of the food industry, spaces dedicated to the urban supply of fresh produce (vegetables, milk, fruit, etc.) were established in the late 19th century and especially in the early 20th century. The city of Grenoble, an industrial city, saw its population and food needs increase. A form of mixed farming was then developed to satisfy the city’s requirements. These local agricultural areas with products intended for urban supply are described as “food suburbs” by geographers (Delfosse and Poulot, 2018; Delfosse and Moraine, 2020). One of the first articles by geographers devoted to the development of agriculture in the Grenoble area describes this development in the Isère cross valley at the end of the 19th century, stating that: “Arable land and vineyards are in decline; in contrast, fodder crops for dairy and meat cattle, are increasing, and alongside them the produce of the suburbs3, fruit and vegetables” (Marchal, 1913). A 1937 article reveals that, unlike the development of the neighbouring mountain regions or upstream of the Isère cross valley, agriculture was not specialised in livestock farming, even if the number of cattle was growing. “The peasant uses cows for cultivation, can sell milk and a few calves and thus earn money. (Veyret-Verner, 1937). Local agriculture therefore combined vegetable crops and cows whose milk finds an easy outlet in Grenoble. This system extended to the slopes of the mountains surrounding the city. There developed agriculture closely linked to the industrial expansion of the city with peasant-worker farms.

10Dairy production, however, did not meet the demands of the city, whose population was constantly growing, as well as its need for drinking milk, which was considered a staple product in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century (Delfosse, 2021). Indeed, Grenoble, surrounded by “dairy mountains” suffered from a chronic lack of milk. This was the result of several factors. The daily supply of milk was difficult in winter, especially due to snow cover, but also because, in the mountains, the severity of the winters caused a very sharp decrease in milk production. Supply was also difficult during the rise in the water levels of the Isère and its tributaries (Vieilly, 1935). It was therefore difficult for the city to extend its dairy-making area towards the mountains. In fact dairy production in the mountains was mainly transformed into cheese, which enhanced the value of milk better and could be sold further afield. It was also processed into butter, supplying Grenoble, but also the nearby spa towns and resorts, which competed with the city for supplies. The availability of milk was also hampered by other speculations, in particular meat, the demand for which was also constantly growing in Grenoble and which was also experiencing supply difficulties for this product. This is why the city also had to source its milk from afar, beyond its local area. In Grenoble, at that time, there was no clearly identified and organised dairy supply area, unlike Lyon, Saint-Etienne or Paris. The mountainous location of the city was paradoxically a handicap.

11Even if the links between the city and the nearby mountains were complex and made it difficult to supply drinking milk, the city received butter and cheeses from the mountains as well as from the Saint-Marcellin region (goat cheese, then cow cheese). These were multi-job holding farmers who delivered their milk directly to the city (in fact direct sales continued for a long time in Grenoble compared to other cities like Lyon); these multi-job holding farmers, from the second half of the 20th century onwards, became increasingly oriented towards the meat production, which was less restrictive.

12Apart from milk collection, other Grenoble agri-food activities stimulated livestock farming in the periphery. There was for example the structuring role played by the Lustucru company in the 20th century in poultry farming in the Dauphiné. On the other hand, the agricultural fairs and markets of La Mure, Voiron and Beaucroissant, which had always been more important centres of trade for farmers in the area, overshadowed the city-centre.

A Gradual Break in Supply Flows between the City and the Mountains

13Complementary actions between the city and the mountains were maintained at least until the aftermath of the Second World War (Miège, 1961). However, the links between the city and nearby farming sector were distorted from the 1960s, as highlighted in articles published in the Revue de Géographie alpine. This applied equally to market gardening (Leberre, 1972), drinking milk and meat. Indeed, following a process that is now well known (Rieutort, 2009), traditional proximity disappeared in favour of increasingly long chains and an ever-greater distance between farmers, processors and consumers. The declining number of dairy farms were integrated into milk collections transporting their production to dairies, some of which were located outside the Dauphiné Mountains. From the 1960s, the Orlac cooperative developed in Vienne (Rhone valley), bringing together cooperative stakeholders from the dairy areas of Grenoble, Lyon and Saint-Etienne. Orlac then joined the large Sodiaal cooperative in 1964. Drinking milk was no longer a local produce purchased daily.

14Overall, it can be said that the local value of the product fell significantly during this period. However, specific forms of livestock farming continued to be linked to the city. A few farmers still sold their milk directly in Grenoble in the early 1980s (Bonnefoy et al., 1993) and beef farming by double-active farmers continued on the hillsides overlooking the city.

From Initial Reflections on Grenoble’s Peri-Urban Agriculture to the Enhancement of Urban-Agricultural and Urban-Mountain Synergies

15Agricultural stakeholders in Grenoble’s surrounding area as well as local authorities became aware very early on of the benefits of peri-urban agriculture and the need to promote local supply channels (Brand and Bonnefoy, 2011). In Grenoble, the Y Grenoblois Development Association for Agriculture was created in 1985. It was primarily aimed at maintaining agricultural land in the valleys. This land tended to be devoted to arable farming and in particular to market gardening. It did not really focus on livestock farming, which nevertheless remained on the hillsides, and did not take into account farming in the nearby mountains.

16In the neighbouring mountains including the Vercors, which has a Regional Natural Park (PNR), policies implemented in the 1980s and 1990s were aimed at reviving local products, in particular the Bleu du Vercors, which obtained a designation of origin in 1998. Like all relaunches, the aim was not so much to conquer the local market, apart from that of tourists, but to make the product known on a national scale, particularly in Paris. However, the policies of the PNRs changed at the beginning of the 2000s and sought to conquer the urban market, and especially that of the Grenoble urban district (Poisson and Delfosse, 2012).

17In actual fact, livestock farming was evolving in the urban district and in the mountain areas that surround it. While in all the mountain ranges of Isère, dairy cattle farming had been the dominant mode of production since the last third of the 19th century, it had declined during the last quarter of the 20th century due to an overall decrease in agricultural activity and the diversification of farming systems: many dairy farms had been converted to raising suckler cows, ewes or goat or even mares, but found it difficult to curb a local trend that was not very favourable to livestock farming. This trend can still be seen in the recent results of the agricultural census. It shows that the number of farms in the département of Isère fell from 4,239 to 2,531 between 2010 and 2020 (a loss of 41% for farms with dairy cows and 25% for suckler cows). Only dairy ewe farming increased during this period (from 18 to 33 farms concerned in the département). The same trend can be seen in the perimeter of the Grenoble urban district and its outlying areas. Livestock farming remains important and is being transformed, with installations in the form of small farms: sheep, goats and pigs, not to mention poultry.

18The decline in dairy cattle farming has been a differentiating factor in the mountains in terms of agricultural activity. A first cleavage appeared between the Vercors plateau and the other mountain ranges: in the former, dairy production remained an important marker of local farming, although the number of farms, but also the volumes produced, had declined (Alavoine-Mornas and Madelrieux, 2015). The consolidation of the Vercors Lait cooperative, which collects six million litres in a dozen municipalities, has probably played an important role in maintaining this activity. In the other areas, dairy production is no longer dominant, and is largely exceeded by meat, with occasional sheep or goat dairy farms. In Chartreuse and Belledonne, the local presence of agricultural holdings has declined considerably, in particular to the benefit of the development of pastures exploited in the form of livestock groups by farmers located outside the area (in particular in the north of Isère). Some municipalities no longer have any professional agricultural holdings at all. In the south of Isère, around Trièves and Matheysine, as well as in the immediate vicinity of the Grenoble conurbation, milk collection has declined significantly (without, however, completely disappearing), but the agricultural fabric has been renewed and now appears relatively dynamic and diversified. On the one hand, market gardening and cereal crops continue to play a significant role. On the other hand, livestock farming remains present in various forms, especially on hillsides and in non-buildable areas.

  • 4 Regional summary sheet on the 2020 Agricultural Census sheet for “Isère”, DRAAF 2021, online.
  • 5 Technical and economic orientation (OTEX).

19Since the 1960s and through to the early 20th century, the city of Grenoble had a complex and strained relationship with its agricultural periphery. Threatened by urban growth, on the one hand, invited to specialise on the other in the name of agricultural competitiveness, livestock farming in the Grenoble area was maintained at the cost of an articulation between agricultural models. Even today, the perimeter of the Grenoble conurbation is characterised by a strong domination of livestock. The first data provided by the 2020 General Agricultural Census4, in particular OTEX5 on the municipal level, confirms the continued dominance of livestock farming (cattle, but also sheep and goats) in the Grenoble conurbation but in much more diverse forms (meat/mixed cattle, mixed livestock, horses). However, if this persistence shows a form of resilience, the sustainability of Grenoble livestock farming has been part of a process to reclaim the “re-territorialisation” of its activity for the past two decades and opens a new phase in the relationship between the city and agriculture. Therefore, the case of Grenoble illustrates characteristics of the relocation of production extensively analysed for the French peri-urban market gardening belts, but also shows a particularity in that livestock farming is fully in line with the reclaiming of the “re-territorialisation” of its activity, both by its modes of sale and by the stakeholders involved.

Figure 2 – Circulation of livestock products from the 1960s to 2010

Figure 2 – Circulation of livestock products from the 1960s to 2010

From Production to Consumption, “Relocated” Livestock between the Mountains and the Urban District. 

20In a “mountainous urban district”, where livestock farming occupies an important position, it is interesting to look at the respective roles of consumers, public stakeholders, farmers and managers of processing and marketing tools, regarding the local reconfiguration of sectors. How do they interact, and how do the intermediaries involved in livestock farming operate? It is necessary to question the role given to livestock farming in the evolution of agriculture in the urban district and the surrounding area: are new livestock farmers helped in their set-up? Are “older farmers” moving towards the urban market?

The Relocation of Livestock Food Channels: Intermediaries that Are Increasingly Well Structured in Favour of Local Consumption

Growing and Multi-Level Involvement of Local Authorities

21Local authorities are working in favour of the relocation and “re-territorialisation” of agriculture. The département of Isère, the Métropole and a few municipalities carry out strong actions with the agricultural sector. They mainly concern processing and marketing tools.

22With milk collection now released from département-level boundaries and controlled by large groups, the development of localised dairy products, other than through on-site farm sales, encounters many structural barriers (creation of a dairy for example). There is an ongoing project involving dairy farmers in Trièves and Matheysine in connection with their collection cooperative (SODIAAL in Vienne). This is part of the promotion of the “Is Here” département-level brand focusing on the origin of the raw material, in this case milk, while building on established channels and facilities.

  • 6 SyAM - Expérimenter et outiller l’hybridation de systèmes alimentaires entre circuits courts et cir (...)
  • 7 Founded in 1963, the MIN was relaunched in the 2010s under the impetus of local authorities.

23More broadly, a lever for public action lies in the Isère Pôle agroalimentaire (agri-food cluster), an association founded in 2018 by local authorities, chambers of commerce and agriculture and various agricultural and agri-food professionals in Isère. This cluster intends to promote the establishment of commercial supply, distribution and consumption channels within the département6. It also participates in the reappropriation of the structuring tools of the sector operated by Grenoble Métropole: abattoir and Marché d’Intérêt National (MIN - market of national interest)7. The Fontanil-Cornillon abattoir benefited from a widely supported recovery plan, and is now administered in cooperative form by farmers in the département. This facility has allowed local operators to regain control of a significant proportion of local agricultural production which, in previous decades, had broadly targeted external outlets. The La Mure abattoir has also benefited from public investment and is sometimes preferred by farmers located south of the Grenoble conurbation.

24The 2010s were therefore characterised by the willingness of public (including local authorities) and private stakeholders to relocate supply and distribution channels. In line with this, key facilities were relaunched (abattoirs, MIN). The dynamics within the Grenoble conurbation can then be seen from a département-level perspective. These observations corroborate the notion of a “local food system”, already developed around the example of Vercors Lait (Chazoule et al., 2015): local multi-stakeholder networks operating between the local and the national levels, in favour of agricultural and agri-food transitions.

  • 8 Projet Alimentaire Inter-Territorial, Coopération alimentaire à l’échelle du grand bassin de vie gr (...)

25In 2019, a Projet Alimentaire Inter-territorial (PAiT - interregional food project) involving Grenoble-Alpes Métropole, the inter-municipal councils of the Grésivaudan, Trièves and Voironnais, the Chartreuse and Vercors regional natural parks and the City of Grenoble was officially established. Its creation is structured around equipment, including livestock, with the goal of developing local supply channels8. Named “Notre région alpine”, it clearly claims its mountain origins and is supported by an agricultural diversity made of “polyculture and livestock farming”. A new level has therefore been created, testifying both to the interweaving of regionalised agricultural systems, but above all to a growing takeover by multiple local stakeholders.

26Local and regional authorities are also involved in promoting agricultural production, and while Grenoble Métropole encourages the installation of market gardens, it also encourages livestock farming to meet the need for local supplies, but also because livestock farming is necessary for the maintenance of the urban district’s environment. It has therefore created a goat farm with multiple environmental, production, educational and reception functions (Delfosse and Baysse-Lainé, 2019) and it helps get farmers set up or improve the production conditions of established farmers. The municipalities of the conurbation are also active in this area, buying up farms and giving specifications to new installations so that they can engage in direct sales. In Saint-Martin d’Uriage, for example, the municipal council has helped with the setting up of several farmers who are involved in market gardening, livestock farming and also organise cultural activities. Other municipalities provide farmers with land to maintain as a way of dealing with the reduction in land due to urban pressure.

A Significant Concentration of Farmers’ Shops, Combined with Growth in Direct Sales

  • 9 The directory of farmers’ shops lists 365 in June 2022, including 18 in Isère; This number is likel (...)

27In the perimeter of the urban district of Grenoble or in the immediate vicinity, there are about ten or so farmers’ shops, which is considerable given that 400 establishments of this type exist in France9. These establishments reflect the importance of the link between the city and the agricultural area. The development of farmers’ shops is a recent phenomenon that testifies well to the growth of local distribution channels: of the ten or so shops in the greater Grenoble conurbation, the oldest was created in 1998, all the others appeared from 2009, mainly during the first half of the 2010s.

  • 10 Located along the D5 road opening west of Belledonne, the Tavernolles market takes place on Tuesday (...)

28Sales by farmers on markets are also being developed and represent a significant outlet for many farms in the département. Some markets are dedicated to direct farmers’ sales and benefit from support from local authorities. However two dynamics emerge: sales in the heart of the urban district, in particular in the markets Hoche and Europole for the city of Grenoble, or capturing commuting migrations with Tavernolles market in Brié-et-Angonnes and Vif market south of the conurbation10. Markets are thus adapting to the timetables and expectations of the population of the Grenoble peri-urban area. They are created either on the initiative of local authorities in conjunction with agricultural stakeholders, or on the initiative of farmers and almost exclusively offer products sold directly, which are most often organic.

  • 11 The agricultural diagnosis carried out by Grenoble Métropole already indicated this fact, which is (...)

29More generally, processing on the farm and direct sales of livestock products have tended to become the norm on farms in the Isère mountains. In the municipalities belonging to Grenoble Métropole, the vast majority of professional livestock farms use them, for all or part of their production11. This is particularly true for meat: a Grenoble wholesaler seeking to source local produce admits that it can no longer find farmers accepting to sell via an intermediary in a perimeter close to the urban district, and that its local supplies are mainly located in the north of the département. Sheep farmers find major outlets in the Grenoble area linked to the Eid festival, which is very favourable to direct sales. These direct sales networks, which are highly individualised, even constitute a brake on the creation of a new system at the département-level, like the recurrent attempts by the Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture in Isère to create a local pork supply chain for local charcutiers: competition from direct sales is too strong.

30Strictly speaking, direct sales are a little less prevalent in milk production, particularly given the importance of the Vercors Lait cooperative which structures the dairy sector in the Vercors, but also the persistence of small dairies in the Chartreuse (Miribel and Entremonts) and that of Mont Aiguille in the Trièves. However, farm production exists and is strengthening on the immediate outskirts of the city, especially on the lower slopes of the Vercors, Chartreuse or Belledonne. In these areas, some livestock farms maintain their presence by abandoning the milk delivery system in favour of on-farm processing, while other livestock farmers condition their installation on the possibility of selling their production directly. Goat and sheep-milk facilities are designed, most often, for processing and sales in short supply chains.

Intermediaries Increasingly Focused on Selling Local Products

  • 12 SyAM - Expérimenter et outiller l’hybridation de systèmes alimentaires entre circuits courts et cir (...)

31In addition to direct sales and farmers’ shops, a growing number of small intermediaries are promoting local produce in the heart of the Grenoble conurbation. These are, on the one hand, small grocery shops, often cooperatives, which work directly with peri-urban farmers by agreeing to make better economic use of their produce, as well as a few MIN wholesalers, in particular the “Mangezbio Isère” platform, initiated by the département-level council. The latter supplies local and organic products to school canteens, which recent legislative developments have strongly encouraged (Egalim Act in particular). For local authorities and chambers of commerce and agriculture at the heart of the relaunch of the Grenoble NIM, the future of the structure lies in the creation of a platform facilitating local supply and distribution channels12. This MIN, the smallest in France, is home to a dozen small-scale wholesalers, most of which work in high-quality and mainly local sectors. While each company has its own distribution channels, all of them tend to sell largely to small retailers and small catering operations (as well as local authorities), and not at all to supermarkets.

32In short, the relocation of livestock farming involves overlaying networks of stakeholders, spaces and highly intertwined distribution methods, as evidenced by farms combining AMAPs, local butchers and direct sales.

Food Transition at the Farm Level: Varied Profiles, but an Increasingly Stronger Relationship with the City

33The interviews we conducted with farmers on the outskirts of the Grenoble urban district allowed us to identify the dynamics of a stronger relationship with the city. Even within the intermunicipal perimeter of the conurbation, it can be said that no new farm can now ignore the closeness to the city in its mode of operation. In this context, we can distinguish some broad configurations, combined in current operating systems.

Part-Time or Multi-Job Holding Farmers

34One of the most remarkable observations of our surveys on the outskirts of Grenoble is the preponderant share of multi-job holding livestock farmers, even though at regional or national level, statistics show a decline in this type of farm.

35In Sappey-en-Chartreuse, a suburban village of a thousand inhabitants on the lower slopes of the Chartreuse, the dozen or so farmers in activity almost exclusively hold multiple jobs, for some working in Grenoble, for others living from their pensions or activities related to local tourism (cottages or tables d’hôte, working in winter sports resorts). This particular situation is the result of an adaptation to typically peri-urban land issues that have made it difficult to set up large farms (agricultural plots are very fragmented between wooded areas and subdivisions, in a compartmentalised and hilly configuration), combined with easy access to non-agricultural jobs.

36In these examples there is a particular model of farms that are not or barely professional, but essential for the maintenance of local agricultural practice and effective farm land. While holding multiple jobs, the farmers of the municipality meet regularly, through a CUMA (cooperative) that brings together the majority, or more informally. Three of them have joined the farming group that occupies the mountain pastures of the upper part of the municipality. The small size of farms places them quite naturally outside long processing and marketing chains. Their livelihood opportunities include a proportion of self-sufficiency, a proportion of very local direct sales and a proportion of tourist or heritage activity. We met a sheep farmer who rents out his lambs as “mowing sheep” to private customers.

37These multi-job holding farmers are largely the beneficiaries of a transmitted heritage and are descendants of village farmers wanting to maintain their land assets. While the model of the farms concerned is based on the existence of a heritage, it also presents a certain resilience in terms of economic valuation, through the diversity of possible complementary activities.

Processing and Sales within the Farm (Vertical Integration of the Value Chain)

38Among the twenty professional livestock farms (excluding horses) present in the municipalities of the Grenoble conurbation, the vast majority of them market almost all of their production through direct sales. While some offer fairly generic products (whole sheep for Eid for example), a good proportion has turned to processing, which makes it possible to maintain sufficient income with constrained and non-expandable surfaces due to land pressure. Farming models have also evolved for the same reasons: we visited two farms that moved from cattle farming to poultry farming (with the sale of eggs and poultry on the markets) in order to maintain a limited number of hectares. Several of the farmers we met rely on mixed livestock, or on the combination with crops (cereals, small fruit). Mixed farmers are constantly increasing the share of processing and direct sales, while “juggling” with land constraints (land reduction): always moving higher up the hillsides and maintaining non-buildable land in the heart of a buildable area.

Hybridisation between Food Production and Leisure Practices (Farm Visits, Horse Breeding)

39For the mountain farmers of the Grenoble agglomeration, closeness to the city brings obvious opportunities connected to the leisure practices of the urban population. These links between mountain livestock and leisure concern three major areas. First of all, horse breeding, strongly present in the lower parts and the foothills south of the conurbation. In Les Herbeys, Claix or Vaulnaveys for example, a number of farmers complete their income by offering stabling for horses. And the opposite exists: a horse stabling operation in Saint-Martin-d’Uriage which is engaged in the production of beef and dairy produce. When productions and uses cannot cohabit within the farm, the balance must be managed in terms of land subdivisions, in sometimes conflicting situations: competition on land, on the supply of fodder. Closeness to the city offers hospitality opportunities on the farm: educational visits, rental of premises, meals and accommodation. In Sappey-en-Chartreuse, we met several farmers who were grasping these opportunities. Finally, if conflicts of use have emerged around mountain practices by city dwellers, their presence in farming areas is also an opportunity to develop awareness and interaction with city dwellers seeking to get away in the mountains. Thus, in 2020, the Sappey farmers’ group produced an audio exhibition in the form of terminals installed on hiking trails along the slopes of Chamechaude, above the village. They broadcast testimonies of farmers making walkers aware of the difficulties generated by their presence.

40To summarise, the interviews conducted just outside the city show that the farmers living and working there are subject to the double constraint of the city and the mountains, which is expressed in particular on the land, and has consequences on farming models. Similarly, without this being specific to peri-urban livestock farming, the workforce also intervenes in the choice of farming and processing (dairy processing on the farm requires additional staff). This is particularly the case of a farm in Vaulnaveys-le-Haut specialising in produce made with ewe’s milk which illustrates this search for a balance between local demand, land possibilities, financial investment and human capacity. However, the mountain environment itself sets constraints, such as predator attacks. We met two farms located in the Grenoble conurbation in the foothills of the Vercors which had suffered several wolf attacks. One was questioning their farming practices and land strategy, by gaining land on the upper reaches of their municipality.

41This city-mountain hybridisation also generates opportunities, which place livestock farms on the outskirts of Grenoble at the forefront of the “re-territorialisation” of food sectors. Thus, we are witnessing processes of “territorialisation” of livestock, in particular by protean responses to a demand for local produce, but also through a close relationship with local authorities. Indeed, far from the vast relaunch of projects at the département-level (such as the “Is-here” brand), the “territorialisation” of Grenoble livestock farming is structured between département-level sectoral organisations (including chambers of agriculture and various federations), and local authorities which are strongly involved - mainly municipalities (conflict management, installation of markets and points of sale or even farmers, land management, etc.).

Spatial Dynamics in Regionalised Sectors: Different Levels of Proximity

42Our field surveys allowed us, in the previous section, to highlight the organisational process of the new relations between mountain livestock farming and the Grenoble urban district. We will now focus on the contours of these new local issues, whose forms change from one mountain range to another. In this perspective, we have identified, as exhaustively as possible, the Isère mountain farmers—sellers or suppliers—in the short supply chain outlets of the Grenoble intermunicipal area: AMAPs, farmers’ shops, markets, groceries selling local produce, etc. The list drawn up within the framework of the FRUGAL project formed the main basis of this census. From this data, we can identify patterns concerning the geographical proximity between livestock farming and the urban district. These models make it possible to characterise the interregional links between Grenoble and its outlying areas, through the prism of livestock farming.

Short Supply Chains Increasingly Anchored in the Urban Fringes and the Greater South Grenoble Area

43The mapping of farms involved in short supply channels reveals interesting information concerning the regions supplying local produce to the city (Figure 3). We have already previously observed that most professional farms in the intermunicipal perimeter of the Métropole are part of these channels. Another striking element is the clear dominance of the southern part of the département of Isère: more than half of the producers practising direct sales in the urban district are located between the southern outskirts of Grenoble and the Trièves and Matheysine plateaus. Conversely, while produce from the Chartreuse and Belledonne mountains is close-by, it is not strongly present on the markets of the urban district.

44This finding was confirmed by stakeholders met in the local food distribution chains. There may be various reasons for this:

  • The Trièves and Matheysine plateaus have maintained a diversified agriculture model, ideal for the development of direct sales, which require a certain diversity of produce offered, more than a specialisation around renowned products.

  • These areas are isolated and far from major agri-food processing centres. On the other hand, local and small-scale processing tools have been able to continue: Mont Aiguille dairy (private), La Mure abattoir (under public service delegation), processor (private) in La Motte d’Aveillans. These establishments have resisted as medium-sized structures.

  • There is a tradition of local cooperation between Grenoble and southern Isère: the La Mure railway and the Veynes line have played an historic role in strengthening the links between the urban district and the Trièves and Matheysine plateaus. Today, these areas are part of the local coherence scheme of the urban district, while the Vercors and the Chartreuse have not joined the perimeter.

Figure 3 – Isère breeders present in the direct sales structures of the Grenoble agglomeration

Figure 3 – Isère breeders present in the direct sales structures of the Grenoble agglomeration
Despite the presence of areas with different socio-professional contours (generally affluent socio-professional classes for Trièves, predominantly working-class for Matheysine), as well as distinct historical agricultural journeys, the area south of the Grenoble conurbation perpetuates its agriculture through short supply chains and the absence of local agricultural specialisation. These observations clearly point to strong dependence between these areas and the Metropolis.

Solidly Established Sectors in the Vercors and Northern Hills of Isère

45While they are not absent from Grenoble markets, farmers in the Vercors are not as strongly present—in proportion—as those in the area south of Grenoble. The same applies to the medium-altitude mountains of northern Isère. However, these are areas in which livestock farming remains relatively dynamic and productive. Our field investigations have put forward several explanations for this more tenuous link between farmers and the urban district.

  • Sectors structured within the mountain ranges themselves

46In the Vercors, the Vercors Lait cooperative federates a large proportion of dairy cattle farmers in the mountain range, mainly for the production of Bleu du Vercors cheese. After a transition into the hands of national groups, the local takeover, since 2003, of collection and processing demonstrates the dynamism of local stakeholders.

47In addition, the Fontanil abattoir, a key establishment for the agri-food processing of livestock products in the Grenoble region, is administered in the form of a cooperative. Its president and vice-president are farmers from the Vercors and northern Isère, respectively. These two areas are the main suppliers of the abattoir.

  • Specific products

48The recognition of Bleu du Vercors as a protected designation of origin undoubtedly plays a role in the more timid presence, in proportion, of Vercors farmers on the Grenoble direct sales market. Inevitably, the recognition of the product expands its reputation and its commercial distribution area, which moves from local to national. It is hardly surprising to note that the farmers of this mountain range that can be found in farmers’ shops and markets of the urban district are not dairy farmers, but tend to produce meat, or goat or sheep farmers present in the most outlying agricultural areas.

49In short, we can say of the Vercors and the medium-altitude mountains of northern Isère that they are more integrated areas, with strong relations with the urban district of Grenoble, but with a greater reciprocity (the periphery is less dependent on the centre), than what can be observed south of the conurbation.

A More Timid Recovery in the Eastern Fringes

50To the east and north-east of the urban district of Grenoble, the links between the Métropole and Chartreuse and Belledonne agriculture are more discreet. Several factors explain this.

  • Agriculture is less developed

51The Chartreuse mountain range, with its particularly compartmentalised and hilly configuration, is mainly known for its vast wooded areas, which have earned forestry products a specific name: “Chartreuse wood”. Agricultural land is generally fragmented and declining. Livestock farms are smaller than in other mountain ranges, and overwhelmingly non-professional. Production is therefore quite limited.

  • Processing facilities focused on Chambéry

52Regarding dairy farming, the north of the Chartreuse mountains still has two small dairies, in Entremont and Miribel-les-Échelles. While producers are mainly located in the département of Isère, dairy outlets are more oriented towards the north (Chambéry, or even the Lyon consumer area) than towards the urban district of Grenoble, even if they are not absent from it. Clearly, the north is less dependent on Grenoble than the south.

  • Operation on the scale of Grésivaudan

53The livestock farms present on the slopes of the Belledonne mountains (as well as, secondarily, those of the Petites Roches plateau) seem to have more outlets within the Grésivaudan area (highly urbanised Isère valley upstream of Grenoble), which alone constitutes a major consumer area, than in the urban district of Grenoble. In short, our observations reflect a lower intensity of relations with the urban district of Grenoble, for these two areas east and north-east of the city. We can consider that the Chartreuse and Belledonne are, from the point of view of the livestock farming, act as an interface between several catchment areas.

On the Fringes of the Conurbation: The Weight of Double Activity

54The first political perimeter of the Grenoble Métropole covers, in terms of mountain farming surface area, the lower slopes of the southern Chartreuse, the eastern side of the Vercours mountains, the Champagnier plateau and the Combe de Vaulnaveys.

55The livestock farms identified in the municipalities within the perimeter of Grenoble Métropole are overwhelmingly so-called “heritage“ farms, that is to say that they do not provide the household’s main source of livelihood. These small farms are generally not, or very rarely, present in the markets or direct sales outlets of the conurbation, unlike professional structures. On the other hand, they can have a role in local food, selling produce by word of mouth in the farm’s immediate vicinity. But above all, food production is not these farm’s main purpose. The latter is part of more diversified systems, in which agriculture itself is only part of the farmer’s model.

56Dual activity and the maintenance of a very small sized farms has always existed in peri-urban situations. Several farmers met in Sappey-en-Chartreuse told us that their fathers and grandfathers were themselves multi-job holding farmers. However, it seems that the trend in multi-job holding farmers has tended to become more widespread over the last decades. In the same municipality, out of six part-time farms, two are backed up by a main tourist reception activity, two others also practice tourist reception as a second complement to another main activity; the last two farmers have a different main job.

57This part-time activity highlights the importance, undoubtedly greater on the immediate outskirts of the city, of hybridisation between different sectors and economic models. Peri-urban livestock farmers thus find themselves at the crossroads between food production, tourist activity and land issues. The term hybridisation of value chains can here be used to describe when the farmer is also a link in each of them.

  • 13 More inclined to pay higher rent, the latter are often criticised by professional or double-active (...)

58However, if the importance of part-time farmers appears relative or reduced in terms of the food supply of the conurbation, their spatial influence is on the other hand real and is at the heart of land conflicts. A legacy from the industrial past of the region, part-time activity, or rather the end of it, participates in the fragmentation of land both by the resale of building land (sprawl) and by the atomisation of plots in cases of leasing of land, like the example of a farm Saint-Martin-d’Uriage with 60 hectares spread over 60 plots. Sucked in by urbanisation, coveted by professional farms as well as by part-time farmers still in operation, or even by horse owners13, the plots of land owned by double-active farmers symbolise the land pressure related to livestock farming practices in the outlying areas of the conurbation. More generally, the land resulting from part-time activity ultimately embodies the role attributed to peri-urban agriculture between a food, landscape or recreational, or even heritage vocation (Delfosse and Baysse-Lainé, 2018).

59From this point of view, the transition at work in this farming model between the city and the mountains is broader than a “simple” food transition. While the evolution of demand for food of the urban district requires the reconversion of dozens of farms in its peripheral areas, the nearby peri-urban area, for its part, is not fully positioned on the food issue, and also encompasses tourist, land and cultural issues, whose developments are just as strong.

Discussion and Conclusion

60The concept of cohabitation is reflected in the conurbation-livestock farming relationship, between agricultural models (food, landscape, recreational), and farms (professional, part-time farmers, livestock and mixed livestock), but also with the sustained growth of the population and its consequences on the land. At the same time, this space-consuming urban influence, generating conflicts of use, is also the basis of an agricultural model that is capable of taking advantage of it. Indeed, short supply chains and the renewal of local supplies ensure the sustainability of farms likely to disappear in the context of a conventional long supply chain such as milk delivery in a dairy or sale to livestock traders. In this sense, livestock farming differs little from urban and peri-urban market gardening, except that it has a greater impact on land issues. Finally, subjected to the rhythm of the urban environment, Grenoble livestock farming is also subject to the effects of a mountainous rural environment with its own challenges and constraints, such as recurrent attacks by wolves, mainly south of the conurbation. As a point of contact or border between two areas, Grenoble livestock farming thus combines the negative effects of urbanisation and the mountain environment but seems to be held together by a lucrative economic model that has hitherto been supported by the population and local authorities. Nevertheless, although it is a vector of local food and several ecosystem services, the presence of livestock farming in the conurbation progressively raises the question of cohabitation with the city and the presence of large predators at its gates.

61Although renewed, the contemporary dynamics of mountain farming have all the hallmarks of well-established interregional relations. First of all, farms, close to the urban district, are fully in line with the concept of regional reciprocity (Talandier, 2014) insofar as the model on which they live is based on economic resources generated by urban proximity. However, the intensity of the links between the urban district and the mountains in terms of the supply of livestock products is due to several levers (development of direct sales, processing tools, marketing companies, public intervention), each of which produces its own configurations. From one area to another, certain sectors also continue to be partially structured independently of the nearby city, responding to other logics: this is how livestock farming in the peri-urban mountains can be tied in with the concept of “interterritoriality”, that is to say, at the crossroads of several spatial logics (Vanier, 2005). As far as the urban district’s area of influence is concerned, complementary elements are organised and the configuration of these levers varies from one area to another.

62Thus, at the end of these analyses, while the mountainous character of the periphery of the urban district plays a role in the stronger presence of livestock products within local food chains, each mountain range, each peripheral spatial entity has its own link with the urban district. In this sense, the relationship between the urban district and mountain farming in the city’s food supply must be considered, first of all, from the perspective of “interterritoriality” between spaces each having their own identity, and not as a centre-periphery operation within the urban district.This would confirm the coexistence of different agricultural and food systems around cities (Gasselin et al. 2021) involving complex forms of regional governance of these food sheds (Chiffoleau et al., 2020).

63Beyond the question of food alone, other vectors of strong urban-mountain relations concerning livestock farming need to be questioned. They concern three main fields of investigation. The first is the importance of the links between agriculture and leisure practices, both peri-urban (equestrian centres, educational farms and other forms of hospitality) and mountain-specific (interactions between farming and ski areas in particular). The second is the environmental issue and the challenge for the city to maintain a “green belt” and landscaping facilities. The third relates to the peri-urban land issue, and to the problem of the increasing fragmentation of farms close to the city, associated with the precariousness of farm leases. We then come to the question of embeddedness (Woillez, 2014) associated with the peri-urban mountain agricultural area: the area of embeddedness for hill farming at the fringes of the city, in view of the challenges it carries, far exceeds the perimeter of agricultural holdings alone.

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1 The département is both second in the number of farmers’ shops (just behind the Rhône), and second in the number of AMAPs (associations supporting small farmers) (behind the Haute-Garonne) in 2021, according to the respective sites of the network of farmers’ shops ( and AMAP network (

2 This research was supported by the Labex ITTEM. It also builds on work that has been carried out upstream in the framework of the PSDR FRUGAL program.

3 By this, the author means fresh produce demanded by urban dwellers.

4 Regional summary sheet on the 2020 Agricultural Census sheet for “Isère”, DRAAF 2021, online.

5 Technical and economic orientation (OTEX).

6 SyAM - Expérimenter et outiller l’hybridation de systèmes alimentaires entre circuits courts et circuits longs, Autour du Pôle Agro-alimentaire de l’Isère, 6 p., PSDR 4. Online:, retrieved January 9, 2023.

7 Founded in 1963, the MIN was relaunched in the 2010s under the impetus of local authorities.

8 Projet Alimentaire Inter-Territorial, Coopération alimentaire à l’échelle du grand bassin de vie grenoblois, 2019, 13 p. (

9 The directory of farmers’ shops lists 365 in June 2022, including 18 in Isère; This number is likely to be under-estimated.

10 Located along the D5 road opening west of Belledonne, the Tavernolles market takes place on Tuesdays from 3pm to 7pm. The Vif market on Wednesdays (3pm-7pm) is also on the road leading to the Trièves.

11 The agricultural diagnosis carried out by Grenoble Métropole already indicated this fact, which is confirmed by our personal investigations.

12 SyAM - Expérimenter et outiller l’hybridation de systèmes alimentaires entre circuits courts et circuits longs, Autour du MIN de Grenoble, 6 p., PSDR 4. Online:, retrieved January 9, 2023.

13 More inclined to pay higher rent, the latter are often criticised by professional or double-active farmers looking for land.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 – Schematic representation of an urban food system
Crédits By: M. Marie, UMR ESO, FRUGAL, 2016, according to Brand and Bonnefoy, 2011
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Titre Figure 2 – Circulation of livestock products from the 1960s to 2010
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Fichier image/jpeg, 189k
Fichier image/jpeg, 201k
Titre Figure 3 – Isère breeders present in the direct sales structures of the Grenoble agglomeration
Fichier image/jpeg, 211k
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Jean-Baptiste Grison, Bernard Pecqueur, Claire Delfosse et Pierre Le Gall, « Livestock Farming in Relations between Urban Districts and the Mountains – The Case Of Grenoble »Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 110-2 | 2022, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2022, consulté le 19 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Jean-Baptiste Grison

Labex ITTEM, Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Sciences Po Grenoble

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Bernard Pecqueur

Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Sciences Po Grenoble, Pacte

Claire Delfosse

Université Lumière Lyon 2, Laboratoire d’études rurales (LER)

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Pierre Le Gall

Laboratoire d’études rurales (LER)

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