We’re heading to Tarn-et-Garonne in southwest France to meet Christophe Belloc. Apple grower and president of the Blue Whale cooperatives union, he’s a key player in a sector well organized to meet the needs of demanding apple eaters. Let’s take a closer look...
An Endemic Crop
Apple trees in blossom are a common sight in many regions of France, which makes Tarn-et-Garonne far from the only one to produce apples. But it’s still easy to mistake this corner of France, especially the flatlands of the Tarn Valley, for one big orchard.
“They used to grow all sorts of fruit round here: peaches, pears, plums, kiwis and more. Although some still grow them, most farmers have long since specialized in apple production,”says Christophe Belloc.
Born into a local family of small-scale farmers, he remembers how his father expanded his company, SCEA Les Granges, before working alongside him and, eventually, taking up the reins himself. Traditional small, multiple cropping farms were already an increasingly rare sight locally by the early 2000s. This is even more true today as Tarn-et-Garonne continues along the path to becoming one of France’s leading apple producers.
A Committed Sector
The region has hundreds of apple growers, each with a farm covering an average area of 45 hectares. Christophe Belloc’s orchards, for example, span 120 hectares. Like 90% of other local farms, he has been awarded Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE) or “high environmental value” certification, one main criteria of which is to promote the biodiversity in orchards and their immediate vicinity. And he doesn’t sell his produce at local village markets. Like most producers, he is one link in the chain of a highly organized sector that sees local apples exported across France and the world — or almost.
He is nevertheless deeply attached to his farm, which employees up to 80 people during the picking season. Equipped with ladders, they move through the rows of apple trees to gather the harvest. Or, more accurately, “harvests”: to stretch the season even further, Christophe Belloc, like many of his fellow apple growers, cultivates a dozen or so apple varieties, some of which mature early, others late. This extends the apple-picking season from late July to late November.
Right now, all eyes are on the Gala variety. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to bite into one, but it’s worth it: absolutely delicious! Just like the Chantecler or Regal You.
A recent creation produced by crossing the Ariane with the Fuji, it reflects the growing momentum of a sector that’s constantly adapting to consumer tastes and the demand for new products. And that’s music to the ears of apple lovers!