Nature Urbaine, a rooftop garden in Paris the size of two football pitches, will supply food to restaurants and hotels in the area.
The Paris Expo Porte de Versailles is cultivating an alternative solution to industrial agriculture on its rooftop: a 14,000-square-meter garden overlooking the Eiffel Tower. The garden, Nature Urbaine, situated on the roof of Pavilion 6 was installed at the end of June by Agripolis and Cultures en Ville, and when fully operational will be the largest of its kind in all of Europe. Tomatoes, strawberries and aromatic plants are already growing in the sizable garden, which is equivalent to two football pitches. The first fruits are currently being distributed to restaurants and hotels in the area, located in the southwest of the French capital.
"We are cheaper than organic and more expensive than conventional because we are in smaller spaces than industrial agriculture, we cannot mechanize and there is a lot of labor, but we also have higher quality," Agripolis founder Pascal Hardy told Efe. The 57-year-old Parisian agricultural engineer sees this urban garden as a showcase for the potential of these alternative crops, which in his opinion offer healthier options without pesticides or chemical products.
They use two techniques: hydroponics, where instead of soil the crops rest on a coconut fibre substrate, and aeroponics, which makes the plants grow in vertical columns with the roots suspended in the air, but protected from pollution thanks to an isolated interior circuit. "Our systems are totally closed and allow us not to be in contact with the particles in the air. Our laboratory tests are impeccable despite being in the heart of the city," Hardy explains.
The resulting landscape is an unpolluted grid of fruit and vegetables which don’t waste any water or nutrients and adds a pop of color among a sea of mostly grey Parisian rooftops.
Urban agriculture is not a recent phenomenon, between the two world wars, as Nature Urbaine recalls, the Louvre courtyard was planted with leeks and even chickens were raised on the city's stately Haussmannian balconies. There are currently about 30 urban gardens across the French capital, but the Paris Urban Planning Agency (APUR) estimates that there are 320 potentially vegetable-yielding hectares that could produce 32,000 tonnes of vegetables a year, enough to feed 230,000 Parisians.
At Nature Urbaine, they are aware of the limitations: "Our idea is not to reproduce industrial agriculture in the city, but to find a more virtuous, healthy, pesticide-free model that would drastically reduce food miles," says Hardy. A model that complements traditional crops, especially because there is some deep-rooted produce, such as potatoes or carrots, that are not suitable for rooftop planting.
The garden in the Parisian pavilion currently has six workers, but they hope to increase the team to twenty. The garden is also useful for the neighbors, who for 320 euros a year can rent a one-square meter plot to grow their own food. "We are trying to propose something different", summarizes Hardy, who hopes to replicate this garden model in other cities and help bring some nature back to the city.
Photos and text: EFE