Focus : Paul Bert Network

An agro-ecological ambition around food

In the heart of Bordeaux, in a former art deco building, the association Paul Bert Network has become over the years a meeting place between people in great precariousness and inhabitants of the city centre. One of the pillars of this particularly committed social centre: agroecology and good food for all. 

At the corner of Paul Bert Street and Ayres Street, in the heart of historic Bordeaux, stands the imposing silhouette of a beautiful art deco building from the 1930s. Wide bay windows, ironwork entrance door, light installation designed by the internationally renowned visual artist Claude Lévêque… It is hard to imagine that this 1000 m2 building is a social and cultural center. 

The place offers a hammam, showers, a laundry, French and computer courses, public writers’ services, social services, nine very social housing units (including six emergency units), but also – and this is more singular – a bistro, an apiary and even a vegetable garden… Food and agroecology, as well as culture, education, health and social support, have long been at the center of the association’s commitment. 

Beehives in the middle of the asphalt

The most emblematic project in this area is undoubtedly the installation of beehives on the roof terrace of the building. Not without pride, Christophe Philippe, the director, welcomes the first steps of the center in beekeeping. “We had up to six hives, produced up to 180 kilos of honey. Potting was done here at the bar. From the breeding of the livestock to the distribution of the pots of honey, we gradually learned to master the entire production chain! “. 

Setting up beehives in the middle of the city was not a simple matter: “In the middle of the asphalt, in the middle of the dugout, we told ourselves that our bees would have difficulty withstanding the shock… This prompted us to plant the roof terrace with honey plants, vegetables, but also aromatic herbs”. Alas, the beekeeper’s apprentices soon saw the Asian hornets arrive. Far from being discouraged, they immediately looked for an ecological solution. It will be the installation of a rooster and four hens “Black Janzay”, a Breton breed reputed to hunt insects and that the Asian Hornet does not scare! This hen even willingly makes it her meal, catching it with a peck when it is hovering in front of the hives, then beheading it to eat only the body full of protein. Collateral effect of the arrival of a henhouse on the roof? The morning crowing of the rooster does not seduce all the residents. “It opened up dialogue, allowed us to talk about the project. Creating disorder is also part of our methodology,” says Christophe mischievously, before adding that “discontent can also produce solidarity”. 

A vegetable garden in the street

The social center was also confronted to neighbourhood discontent when a vegetable garden was set up in the street, with a few grumpy people preferring to park their cars there rather than see tomatoes and zucchini grow. Tension mounted, the press talked about it, the city council took up the issue and the mayor at the time, Alain Juppé, finally decided: “We’re not going to make a big deal out of this story of tomato plants! ». The lasagnabed, the litter resulting from the fermentation of cardboard, grass, manure and dead leaves, laid on the pavement, can therefore continue to quietly turn into compost and receive new plantings as the seasons go by. 

The kids and inhabitants of the neighbourhood come to glean some fruits and vegetables, a vermicomposter is installed. “With our hundred participants, it has become the last place where we talk. It’s a way for us to reappropriate public space, not to make it our property, but to use it,” says Christophe, who has been dreaming since then of greening no less than the whole street ! 

A popular but luxurious bistro

From producing vegetables on asphalt to setting up a bistro, there is only one step that the Paul Bert Network does not hesitate to take. “It’s important to take people on demanding adventures” says the director of the structure, who is proud to post a “full house” every lunchtime. At the table of the Paul Bert Network, you can eat well, healthy and well-balanced for the modest sum of 4 €. “Here, people pay. They don’t pay much, but they pay. Economic exchange pacifies relations” says Emmanuel Jourdes, the director general, before continuing: “Luxury is important for all social classes. Our concern is to offer the very popular classes food that the bourgeoisie can afford.”

A small team is in charge of this luxury at a reduced price: Vanessa, the cook, and employees and volunteers in the kitchen and on catering service. At the bistro, you can be a volunteer one day and a customer another day, giving your time or bringing ingredients. Vanessa was offered several kilos of quince by a client of the restaurant. Seasonal fruits that she immediately transformed into… the dessert of the day. Emmanuel Jourdes admits to being proud of this project. “It’s a real popular bistro, not made for the poor. The mix is well developed, the atmosphere is family and relaxed. We’ve recreated a village square”. 

Beehives, vegetable gardens, bistro… when asked about the next projects of the Paul Bert Network, he smiles about the creation of an astronomy spot on the rooftop terrace “with his feet in the garden and his head in the stars!”. 

Practical information

Réseau Paul Bert

2 Rue Paul Bert, 33000 Bordeaux

Tel +33 (0)5 56 79 20 44

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France

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