Market gardening in Saumurois

Published on 13 April 2017 - Updated 16 November 2018

A key activity in the region, well suited to the local environment

As you can tell from the mosaic of cultivated fields here, market gardening is a major activity in this northern part of the Saumurois, whereas vines and cereals have the upper hand in the south.
Alain Morisseau is a market gardener in Villebernier, working the lands of his ancestors – 35 hectares in all, including 7 hectares of greenhouses. He belongs to a cooperative that produces “heirloom” vegetables. Maine-et-Loire is France’s leading département in this particular field.
Alain Morisseau also grows lamb’s lettuce, asparagus, banana shallots and radishes – a million bunches of radishes a year for the French market. He explains how the local soil is ideally suited to market gardening.
“Silt is deposited by the Loire in times of flood, sand, bits and pieces of rotten wood, organic matter from long ago, and that’s what enriches our land and structures the soil; silt mixed with sand acts like a sponge, retaining moisture in our soils when we water what has to be irrigated; when you’ve got water, you wait two or three days before you work them, seed them or plant in them. There’s not really much resistance – above all at harvest time, when you pull up a vegetable, most of the earth stays where it is and the vegetable comes out on its own, with not much cleaning required.
Another good thing about the land here is that it heats up again quickly when winter’s over. You can go back to sowing and planting the fields earlier, and the warmth’ll get your plants growing more easily and faster. We’re a step ahead here as regards early fruit and vegetables.”
Early vegetables and fruit, always of interest as they’re bestsellers.
“The first strawberries are always a bit more expensive than later ones – that’s normal enough, it makes sense.”
And of course, you draw water indirectly from the Loire, via wells supplied by the river’s alluvial groundwater.
“Wells around here are only 5 or 6 meters deep; when the Loire’s water level rises, our wells fill up, when it goes down, in summer mostly, they’re lower.”
The Saumurois contains almost 200 market-gardening concerns, drawn by the Loire Valley’s fertile soils.