From Paris to Maine: An Interview with Erica Berman
Erica Berman, the founder of HiP Paris and Veggies to Table is all things French, sustainable, and giving. We were first introduced to Erica through her blog, HiP Paris we explored her love for a true Parisian lifestyle. The best places to stay, eat, explore, shop and really immerse ourselves in French culture. After 20 years in Paris, Erica decided to make a meaningful change in her life and now splits her time between Paris and Maine where she runs Veggies to Table, a non-profit that grows organic produce to feed the food insecure population of Maine. So far they have donated over 15,000 pounds of fresh organic fruits and vegetables along with hundreds of bouquets of flowers to those in need. We are honored to feature Erica and we know you will enjoy getting to know her love of Paris and her deep-rooted desire to live a more meaningful life and to give back to her community. All things we love at Madame de la Maison.
Why did you decide to move to Paris after college? I decided to move to Paris so that I could truly learn to fluently speak another language. I took French for many years in high school, and even in college, but couldn't even put a sentence together. I went to Middlebury College for their summer immersion program and then moved to France right after that.
What was your experience like adapting to life in Paris? Did you speak the language? Did you find friends and work? My experience to adapting to life in Paris was interesting, and I think slightly unique. I did speak quite well after the Middlebury program, but I didn't really know any French people, which was challenging. So, I decided to distance myself from my Anglophone friends, got a job as a waitress in a wine bar, took a photography class and actively searched for people to speak only French with.
For the first couple of years I lived there, I ended up with some friends that I might never have met otherwise, who were lovely people, but just not my people. It took some time to find my people. Eventually, I did realize that I had to let my Anglophone friends back in as well, that it was ok. As my French was good enough that I could switch back and forth, it made life a little bit easier —but finding French speaking friends in Paris is always a challenge.
Can you tell us about how and why you started the HiP Paris Blog? I started HiP Paris in 2008. I had created Haven In a luxury vacation rental company in Paris, Provence and Tuscany. I wanted to create a cultural outlet for myself and to help give my clients a way to find unique and interesting things to do in Paris that they may not have found otherwise.
What is a perfect day in Paris like for you? What are some of the gems you miss about the city? My favorite thing to do in Paris is walk. I love to walk early in the morning, especially in Montmartre, my neighborhood, because not very many people are out early and the light is amazing. I also like to walk in the evening with my husband. It’s a whole different vibe late at night in the city.
Aside from walking and exploring it would be having a wonderful cappuccino. One of my favorite cafés is Le Métro, which is on Rue Ravignan, by Métro Abbesses.
Next I would have lunch with a friend at Mokonuts —it's not new, but it's always delicious. And if I have free time and the weather is rainy, like it often is in Paris, I would go to see two movies back to back. I love to go to the Quai de Seine on the canal. Or I like to go to Le Cinéma des Cinéastes which has a lot of independent content. And, of course, Studio 28, which is on Rue Tholozé in Montmartre is another favorite.
Another one of my Paris passions is going to the market, cooking up a storm and inviting friends over for brunch or dinner. That’s one of the things I miss most right now. And, of course, going out to dinner if I am not cooking. If I could go anywhere right now, it would be dinner at Verjus which is where my husband and I got married in 2012 and the prix fixe lunch at Bistrot Paul Bert for their steak au poivre, frites and profiteroles.
Why did you decide to move back to the States? Why Maine? I moved back to the States because of my husband actually, who is French. I met him when he was traveling through France to visit his family after living on Réunion Island and doing an 18 month around the world journey. He was not planning on staying in France, and he got, as he called “stuck there to stay with me”.
We spent eight years in Paris together and every year was the year he said he was leaving. And finally I realized we were leaving. I had sort of gotten stuck in a routine and knew it was time to move on. I just needed a push.
We chose Maine because I’ve been coming here my entire life. And each time I came here it was harder to leave. I realized this is where I want to be, aside from Paris and Italy, which I also adore. Before we moved to Maine, my husband asked why Maine? I explained to him that there were so many places we could find that might be wonderful, but this is one that I already knew.
We live by the ocean, a lake, and have mountains, hiking and a huge variety of local food—everything from produce, seafood, meat and dairy.
Can you tell us a bit about why and how you started your non-profit, Veggies to Table? How has it made an impact on you personally as well as your surrounding community? When we moved to Maine we had no idea just how bad food insecurity was. When we learned that 43% of students rely on the school meals for their main food of the day and over 210,000 (out of a population of 1.3 million) go hungry daily, it broke our heart and we started Veggies to Table. Our mission is to grow beautiful, top-quality organic produce and flowers to donate to people that are food insecure. The flowers are to create joy, and food for the soul, and the veggies are for nourishment. We also do a lot of education around healthy food and sustainable living. And we have a volunteer program that creates lasting community connections with the volunteers which has been a godsend under COVID.
So many people are trapped at home but craving nature. Can you share some advice for someone who wants to start their own garden at home? I have tried and failed! Help! I would suggest reading books, watching webinars, talking to people who've done it successfully, and just start. That was one of the best pieces of advice that I read from Joel Salatin who's a farmer at Polyface Farm. Volunteering or finding a mentor is another route to take.
When I started I had no idea how to garden and I just did it, making many mistakes, and having many successes, along the way. A couple of good resources are Fruition Seeds—they have both free and paid webinars for home gardeners. There’s also some excellent people I suggest following on Instagram from Finchandfolly, who is based in Maine and has a lot of suggestions for gardening in Maine to Seedtofork, a great home gardening resource. I also like to listen to Joe the Gardener’s Podcast. I like to read Eliot Coleman, Jean-Martin Fortier and Joel Salatin. And I spend a lot of time talking to people, taking webinars, watching YouTube videos (a must) and just getting out there and doing it. And then, of course, Google. I’m always Googling.
Who are 5 dream guests you would love to have at your dinner table and why? Right now I just dream of being able to have meals again with family and friends safely and freely.
What are some of your favorite items in our shop that you are coveting for your own table? I love everything on the shop but I think it's the linens that I really like the most. And I want them to be Aubergine because that way they will not show stains.