France’s famously beautiful capital is not a place you’d expect to find chickens, beehives and rows of neatly planted cabbages – but urban farming is flourishing in Paris.
It all started when the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who was elected in 2014, declared her intention to make Paris a greener city. The Paris government responded to her call in 2016 by launching Parisculteurs, a project which aims to cover the city’s rooftops and walls with 100 hectares (247 acres) of vegetation by 2020. One third of the green space, according to its plan, should be dedicated to urban farming.
So far, 74 companies and public institutions have signed a charter to partner with the city in developing urban agriculture.
“Paris not only intends to produce fruit and vegetables but also (plans to) invent a new urban model … Citizens want new ways to get involved in the city’s invention and be the gardeners,” says Penelope Komites, deputy mayor of Paris, who is in charge of the city’s parks and green spaces.
“Three years ago, people laughed at my plan. Today, citizens are producing (produce) on roofs and in basements. We are also asked by numerous cities around the world to present the Parisian approach.”
Farm to plate
Located a 20-minute drive from the Eiffel Tower, next to the Porte de Clignancourt metro station, in 2014, La REcyclerie built one of the biggest urban farms in the city – before Paris had even started its project.
This cozy café in a converted former train station is at the heart of a 1,000 square meter (about 10,760 square feet) farm. It produces over 150 different herbs and crops, such as peas and potatoes, all of which are used in the café. Chickens eat any leftovers, while a flock of ducks roams the vegetable garden feasting on slugs.
The farm is perhaps best known for its three beehives. La REcyclerie has partnered with beekepper Volkan Tanaci, founder of CityBzz honey – to maintain and set up the beehives. The CityBzz honey scooped a silver medal in the 2017 World Beekeeping Awards, granted by the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations, and took home gold at the first honey contest hosted by the Metropolis of Greater Paris.
“It’s incredible that our urban honey is better than the rural one, but that’s because we don’t use any pesticide in our flowers and plants,” says Marion Bacahut, head of programming at La REcyclerie. “We want to show people it’s possible to farm in an urban environment and it is easy to live in an eco-friendly way. We are playing a big role in making the city greener.”
Since the Parisculteurs project launched in 2016, 75 projects have been approved by the city of Paris, covering 15 hectares of spaces. The projects will create more than 500 tons of produce.
La Chambeaudie Farm, run by agriculture start-up Aéromate, is located on the 500 square meter (5,380 square foot) roof of a medical center owned by Paris Metro (RATP) in the 12th arrondissement – a district in the east of Paris on the right bank of the River Seine.
Michel Desportes and Louise Doulliet, the co-founders of Aéromate who are both in their 20s, submitted a proposal to the City of Paris when Parisculteurs launched. Their application to lease the rooftop from RATP, with a contract between the two parties in place, was approved after six months.
Théo Manesse, the business development manager of Aeromate, says becoming an urban farmer hasn’t been easy, due to the level of government oversight required. “In France, every detail must be managed – you have to do things perfectly.” But he adds: “It’s complicated and challenging, but really fun.”
Today, La Chambeaudie grows more than 40 varieties of plants and herbs, which are sold to restaurants and grocery stores. The farm uses a hydroponic system, which grows plants in water enriched with nutrients, rather than soil – the water can be recycled to reduce waste.
Aeromate recently set up a second farm on the rooftop of Tishman Speyer, a real estate group, at Place de La Bourse in central Paris, and plans to establish a third farm at The Duperré School of Applied Arts, a public college of art and design.
Making a living through urban farming
Komites says urban agriculture will not only improve Paris aesthetically and environmentally – it will also provide employment opportunities. Season one of the Parisculteurs scheme, she says, “has created 120 full-time jobs.” Aeromate’s three staff work fulltime on their farming projects, and Manesse says he expects La Chambeaudie to become profitable this year. “We are creating jobs and just want to keep growing.”
At La REcyclerie, the majority of income is earned by the café. “We welcome 600 people every day,” says Bacahut, adding that the café will open greenhouses this spring, which will be used for farming workshops.
Today, Paris counts about 15 hectares (37 acres) of urban agriculture. To reach its goal of 30 hectares before 2020 is a challenge. But there are plenty of projects in the works.
In 2019, the Chapel international project will open a 7,061 square meter (about 76,000 square feet) farm, that it says will be the largest cultivated rooftop in Paris. Its produce will be distributed by Franprix, a grocery store chain in Paris.
“We’ve seen a real craze among Parisians to participate in making the city more green,” says Komites. “Urban agriculture is a real opportunity for Paris. It contributes to the biodiversity and to the fight against climate change.”