LES CROQUEURS de pommes®
This national movement started in 1978 at the instigation of Jean-Louis CHOISEL, a self-taught arboriculture and pomology enthusiast. The family orchard of his ancestors, gardeners at Seloncourt (25) had been destroyed under the pressure of urbanisation.
The terrible cold spell which occured during the winter of that year caused the death of thousands of old orchard trees, mainly due to frost and the thick layer of ice accumulated on them. This second shock was instrumental in J.L. CHOISEL's decision to take action and rally volunteers to save fruit trees.
Currently 60 local branches and more than 7000 members are dedicated to the preservation of old fruit varieties.
J. L. CHOISEL understood the wealth of local fruits was no longer available from nurserymen, because selling most of these varieties had become prohibited since they were not listed in the official CTPS catalogue. He discovered how amateurs fruit growers were in despair, appalled by the state of the fruit patrimony.
He became convinced that without concrete and immediate action, conducted in their own orchards by the amateurs gardeners themselves, the old fruit varieties were bound to disappear completely.
His purpose was threefold:
- Make people understand that traditional varieties were disappearing.
- Bring together those who were aware of the situation and make them speak.
- Give them the means to remedy locally.
It should be noted that the date and place for the birth of the Movement did not come out by chance. The 1970's saw the awakening of the ecology movement. The public was learning in astonishment that everything on the planet was in danger: the sea, the forest, the wildlife... Theses new notions were widely spread by the media, which caused an increased awareness of the issue.
The "terroir" where the Movement began: a recently industrialized territory, of which the original rural population no longer represented more than the tenth of the existing total population. This population just became urbanized and industrialized but stayed in place, keeping its land, its houses, its gardens, its trees. Moreover, the "Pays de Montbéliard", in addition to beeing extremely rich in fruit varieties was the heir of a long tradition in the domains of arboriculture and pomology: as early as the end of the sixteenth century, Jean BAUHIN published one of the first genuine treatise on pomology.
Two features were apparent from the beginning of the Movement:
- A practical approach. It is perhaps where the uniqueness of the "Croqueurs de pommes" resides, when compared to a number of associations displaying a highly speculative approach to the problem, but unable to match it with concrete achievements. Each member is required to save, in his garden, at least one local variety. This largely makes up for the relatively limited financial means of the association, which come almost entirely from the small fees payed by the members (the greater part of it is used for the publication of the newsletter).
- To operate, the association does not rely on sponsoring or public aids. This means a policy of strict voluntary work from the persons in charge and extensive use of each one's talents should prevail. Neither dignitaries, nor bureaucrats are to be accepted. But people making good use of their skills, improving them, in an environment of initiative, openness and conviviality.
The Movement grew very fast from the beginning. Five causes can possibly be identified:
- The message was new.
- The original presentation (the humorous name, "Les Croqueurs de pommes" "The apple munchers", is a challenge).
- The use of astute methods: surveys about fruits, contracts to implement orchards, free training, study sheets.
- The dynamic and realistic spirit kept alive by the newsletter and its letters to the editor.
- The support given by numerous sympathizers.
Right from the beginning, J.L. CHOISEL received valuable support from key figures, in particular from M. PUJOL, from the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle. He also established contacts with the Institut National de Recherches Agronomiques (INRA).
The originality of the message and its presentation was understood by the media. Relayed by magazines, newspapers, the radio and prominent gardeners appearing on TV it caused an overwhelming number of people to join the Movement, and even more to ask for information. This required the use of computer equipment and the need to beef up the team which managed the association. To structure the Movement became evident. It was neither easy to set rules which suited all the individuals with marked differences and coming from different territories who had taken responsibilities in the movement, nor to set limits without impeding iniative and stifling creativity.
Likewise, with members spread all around France, justifying the motto: Only Normans can defend apples from Normandy, two trends would face. The advocates of decentralization would turn to a federative solution, trusting their local responsibles. The others, fearing the Movement would break up and die would want to take precautionary measures. A compromise was found. It has allowed brilliant local branches fully responsible at their level to be created with their own methods and actions. While being independent, they all agree on a common minimum statute. Their delegates form a national board of trustees.
The cohesion of the whole Movement is not so much due to the established rules, but is ensured by:
- a forward-looking common ecological attitude: stop the damage and do all that can be done to safeguard the fruit gene pool.
- practical methods for training members on arboriculture and pomology with the help of media and publications.
- members participation in concrete actions: preservation orchards, free training, graft exchange, exhibitions.
All of this beeing done in what is known among the association as the "Croqueur spirit", a mixture of initiative, commitment, friendliness.
These regional branches, often very unique, maintain all their preservation orchards (a total of more than 100 hectares and 20.000 trees) and administer two thirds of the members (isolated members are administered directly by the national board). Depending on how long they have been in existence, they can comprise between 20 to more than 400 members. Regular relations are established with other similar associations in France (Société pomologique du Berry, Mordus de la Pomme, I z'on creuqué eun' pomm, etc) or abroad (Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Germany).
There is little correlation between the number of orchards in a region and the number of members. The creativity and the commitment of the leaders as well as the traditions in relation to associative life of a territory are much more decisive. Once a year, one of the local branches invites the other groups for the annual meeting, which helps keeping strong friendly bounds between executive committee members from the different parts of France.
Who are the "Croqueurs de Pommes"?
Whether they are isolated or members of local branches, they have not changed much since the origin of the Movement. They are mature or senior men: 4 roughly equal age ranges are making 90% of the total number of members: 35-45; 45-55; 55-65; 65-75. Almost all professions are represented, with, as would be expected, a large proportion of retired people (approximately one third). Another third is comprised of employees, technicians, workers and teachers. Agricultural professions (farm workers, horticulturists, tree farmers and nurserymen) represent only 6% (close to the national percentage). To complete the picture, we may add that 18% of the members of 1981 are still present within the association... but represent now only 4% of the total number of members.
Each year, a significant number of persons do not renew their membership: a technical training or a solution to a problem with their trees is what motivate them to join, and once satisfied they go away. But they continue to spread the message and what they learned and they remain "Croqueurs" inside of them. Thus, like seeds swept by the winds, there are a few thousands of these people throughout France.
This constant renewal of the living substance of the Movement, the contributions from the various branches, the new trends or centers of interest publicized by the media... without forgetting the mark made by key persons inside the movement, all of this is absorbed smoothly by the flexible structure characterizing our association. It is the reason why, without moving away from its primary goal: to save the varieties in danger, the effort seemed to focus successively on the biological orchard, on ecology, on arboriculture, and finally on pomology. But nothing is definite...
What is the future of the "Croqueurs de pommes"?
It would seem the future is assured:
- The problem of genetic conservation is far from beeing solved; there is so much to do...
- The problem of the promotion of valuable varieties does not make much progress.
- The association is growing. It is recognized not only by the public, but also by the administrative authorities (ministerial accreditation for the conservation of nature) and local authorities: many town councils ask us for advices when they create public places.
- Its members improve their knowledge with the help of a newsletter and an increasing number of suitable publications to support the rebirth of a forgotten pomological science.
However, some weakness cannot be underestimated, as it is the case with any association relying exclusively on voluntary work. There are always potential risks: ageing structures or ideas, ageing of key persons, ossification, individualistic tendencies, excessive centralism, fatigue. But the seeds have been disseminated and they will continue to germinate for a long time.
To draw up an assessment would be difficult. Among the things that changed in the last 10 years, how important was the contribution of the Croqueurs de pommes?
- Large-scale distribution is slowly evolving (often via luxury products).
- Many nurserymen are now offering local varieties in their catalogue.
- The National Catalogue has finally begun again to list forgotten national varieties. Thousands of old trees have been restored, young trees have been planted and grafted with endangered varieties. Their fruits have been photographed and electronically filed for reference.
- In all parts of France, thousands of fruit trees have found again a name and a value, ensuring their continuance.
The Croqueurs de Pommes Movement
It contributed to revert a process, which looked inexorable before: the loss of the national fruit patrimony. However, strangely as it may seem the considerable work accomplished has, to date, not enabled the Association to make its voice heard from the official authorities. Is it because it never cost them a penny?
The "Association nationale des Amateurs Bénévoles pour la sauvegarde des variétés fruitières régionales en voie de disparition, dite des Croqueurs de Pommes" was born in 1978 out of an idea from Jean-Louis CHOISEL, an amateur tree farmer and pomologist. The young association, whose declared purpose was to stop the damage done to the orchards of the amateur gardeners and to safeguard the local fruit gene pools, received from the beginning the support of mass media. The conditions were favourable at that time because ecological concern was arising at the national level. The Pays de Montbéliard-Belfort, where the movement originated, the "terroir", suited to arboriculture was particularly endangered. People from this region traditionally also had a favourable cultural background in the areas of both botany and associative life. With goals clearly asserted and oriented towards the future, the Association develops its actions around two main lines:
- Firstly, the knowledge about traditional fruits varieties, awareness of the danger, consumer education, use of basic ecological principles;
- Secondly, carry out practical actions and methods oriented towards the general public: 20 000 trees in preservation orchards, free training on pruning and grafting, graft exchange, various exhibitions, publishing of technical brochures and of a quarterly newsletter.
In 2010 the association consists of 60 regional groups which vary greatly in size but all share the same ideals, goals and methods. They all operate on a strict voluntary work basis. The association maintain relations with numerous learned societies or other associations. With the current interest in nature and in the fruit patrimony in particular, the Association des Croqueurs de Pommes plays a dynamic role in the renewed interest in pomology and comprises more than 7000 members in 2010. But this number does not include thousands of people who have been introduced to arboricultural techniques and stimulated to participate to the restoration of our common fruit patrimony by the action of the association.