In Paris, urban farmers are trying a soil-free approach to agriculture that uses less space and fewer resources. Could it help cities face the threats to our food supplies?
Thanks to the Guardian for keeping stories like this coming:
On top of a striking new exhibition hall in the southern 15th arrondissement of Paris, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm has started to bear fruit. Strawberries, to be precise: small, intensely flavoured and resplendently red.
They sprout abundantly from cream-coloured plastic columns. Pluck one out to peer inside and you see the columns are completely hollow, the roots of dozens of strawberry plants dangling into thin air.
From identical vertical columns nearby burst row upon row of lettuces; near those are aromatic basil, sage and peppermint. Opposite, in narrow, horizontal trays packed not with soil but coco coir (coconut fibre), grow heirloom and cherry tomatoes, shiny aubergines and brightly coloured chards.
“It is,” says Pascal Hardy, surveying his domain, “a clean, productive and sustainable model of agriculture that can in time make a real contribution to the resilience – social, economic and also environmental – of the kind of big cities where most of humanity now lives. And look: it really works.”
Hardy, an engineer and sustainable development consultant, began experimenting with vertical farming and aeroponic growing towers – as those soil-free plastic columns are known – on his Paris apartment block roof five years ago.
This space is somewhat bigger: 14,000 sq metres, the size (almost exactly) of two football pitches. Coronavirus delayed its opening by a couple of months, but Nature Urbaine, as the operation is called, is now up and running, and has planted roughly a third of the available space.
Already, the team of young urban farmers who tend it have picked, in one day, 3,000 lettuces and 150 punnets of strawberries. When the remaining two-thirds of the vast rooftop of Paris Expo’s Pavillon 6 are in production, 20 staff will harvest up to 1,000kg of perhaps 35 different varieties of fruit and vegetables, every day.
“We’re not ever, obviously, going to feed the whole city this way,” cautions Hardy. “In the urban environment you’re working with very significant practical constraints, clearly, on what you can do and where. But if enough unused space – rooftops, walls, small patches of land – can be developed like this, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t eventually target maybe between 5% and 10% of consumption.”
Nature Urbaine is already supplying local residents, who can order fruit and veg boxes online; a clutch of nearby hotels; a private catering firm that operates 30 company canteens in and around Paris; and an airy bar and restaurant, Le Perchoir, which occupies one extremity of the Pavillon 6 rooftop…
Read the whole article here.