The first day in Toulouse we toured a farmers market and a meat market. The variety of fruit and vegetables was impressive. Some of which we cannot buy in the US. The desire for fresh and local is clearly evident and people go out of their way to have it. In the meat market they had everything from cow tongue to cow brains. Our professor and guide claimed it was tastey but that may be a matter of opinion. The following day we explored the city visiting many churches and a museum. I have noticed they respect the history but mostly the traditions of their culture more than Americans. The next day, we met with the chamber of agriculture for the Toulouse region. We discussed everything from difficulties of growing transgenics to subsidies and support for start up farmers. There were pros and cons of their system, which is much more socialized compared to our. The one aspect I believe they have it figured out the greatest is farmers are elected for positions within the chamber of Ag rather than politicians. I'm sure it does get a little political but at least the person representing you is one of your own. On Wednesday we travled to the INRA, the French equivalent to a USDA research center. We toured the facility and discuss many of the latest discoveries in Ag and genetics. I found the research in the bacteria Xanthomonas the most intriguing. They have found that some plants are able to "degrade" the bacteria with enzymes when it recognizes it is attacked. It is a constant battle of evolution to survive. Our last trip before the weekend off we toured a local organic vegetable farm. Personally my favorite day because it is something I would want to pursue when I graduate. The owner was very anti GMO and conventional Ag. He believed many of problems environmentally and with our health stem from those two. He believed an agriculture revolution will happen which will see local produce being grown in urban areas due to the cost of petroleum. I enjoyed his ideas however farmers would only be able to feed 2/3 of our population if everything was grown organically. It's every humans moral right to have food security and the way I see it, organic produce is just a money maker for farmers and only for the rich that can afford it. That being said, I do believe we need to reduce pesticides and fertilizers entering our envirmnet with smarter practices like IPM and percision Ag.
With the weekend off I took a trip to Luchon, a small town in the Pyrenees mountains. There I completed one of the hardest hikes in my life- a 4,000 ft rise in elevation over 40 kilometers. The view was worth it though. Snow packed peaks in every direction you looked. Nothing more can make one feel at peace than such a trek. Back in the town I explored the shops and admired the architecture. The next day was filled with more hiking to an old mid evil castle but more like watch tower. Later that evening I caught the bus back to Toulouse. This concluded my first week in France.