Uni-Vert is France’s first co-operative to be certified both organic and Fairtrade. Together this group of 35 staunchly ethical farmers (based around Nîmes in the sunny South) grow a wide variety of fruit, veg and herbs, including the spinach and lettuces that keep our bowls bountiful during winter, and sweet pears in August and September.
For several years, market gardeners in the Gard region had been pioneering organic methods, hoping to reduce their environmental impact – and in 1991 the Uni-Vert co-operative was formed, allowing isolated organic farmers to benefit from the solidarity of the whole.
Together they have been able to cut out middlemen, selling directly to all their customers. They ask for a fair margin (all growers are paid at least 10% more than the cost of production), and support each other in case of unexpected hitches like bad weather or crop diseases.
It’s not just better for the farmers, but for their workers too. Fairtrade certification, which the co-operative attained in 2017, guarantees that everyone must be paid fairly. The ratio of female to male workers is limited to 1:5, and men and women must be paid equally for equivalent jobs. All workers are given a say in the company’s decisions.
Uni-Vert president (and fruit grower) Bertrand Feraut said: “For us being granted Fairtrade status is very rewarding, but it was basically what we were doing already. Now we have made it official and that will allow us to bring longevity to our members.”
“We are proud that lots of young people work for our producers, and by guaranteeing the terms of payment offered to our growers we are ensuring that future generations can continue the work of these family businesses.”
Honestly, they’re just good people. We could list the inspiring things they do until the cows come home (which would be quite a while; they aren’t dairy farmers). Any charitable work? Yes, they host small-scale cotton producers from West Africa to show them how to form their own co-operatives to compete with larger plantations. A few Uni-Vert members even visited Lebanon to spread co-operative know-how there, too. They also sponsor young people in Senegal to go to school or learn agricultural practices, providing a foundation for their future.
What about the environment? Well, they adhere to environmental standards that go even further than EU organic standards, and have reduced their carbon footprint by 240K tonnes per year since 2015 by planting trees and installing solar panels.
Uni-Vert’s environmental credentials benefit Riverford, too. Growing crops in the UK using artificial heat is environmentally insane; our study found that for every tonne of tomatoes grown under heated glass, 2-3 kilos of C02 are released into the atmosphere. Trucking over spinach and lettuce from Uni-Vert (grown in unheated shelters) when we can’t grow it at home, and extending the UK pear season with their fruit, is by far the greener option.