Paris rooftops at the heart of an urban revolution

A bumble bee zig zags through rows of lettuce, over a healthy patch of red peppers and lingers next to a juicy strawberry, before buzzing away and off the rooftop of a six-storey building in central Paris.

Based on the top floor of a municipal swimming pool in the busy Marais district, this thriving city farm is at the heart of an urban food revolution in the French capital.

Opened in 2017 by Agripolis, it is part of a series of City Hall-led projects, called Parisculteurs, which will see 100 hectares of vegetation planted across Paris by the end of the year. Agripolis alone has 10 farms running or in planning around the city.

The farm’s vertical system is closed- loop, doesn’t waste any water, and doesn’t use pesticides. In season, it produces some 20-30,000 portions of fruit, salad and vegetables. It has come to be a blueprint for changing how the city eats.

“We don’t throw anything away,” says Pascal Hardy, an agronomist and the founder of Agripolis, who only entered the world of urban farming in 2015 by growing vegetables on the roof of his Parisian apartment.

“My principal motivation has always been environmental. Our farms are great for biodiversity and efficiency, and they have a very low carbon footprint.”

Agripolis is also set to unveil a 14,000sq m farm atop the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, an exhibition centre in the south-west of the city. The project was due to open in April but this had to be delayed because of the lockdown in France in response to the pandemic. When it opens at the end of June, it will be the largest urban rooftop farm in the world – and the largest urban farm of any kind in Europe. With more than 30 different plant species, the Porte de Versailles site will produce around 1,000kg of goods every day in high season. The first harvest of greens is expected after a month.

Visitors will be able to eat at a 300-cover on-site restaurant, attend educational tours and even lease small vegetable plots of their own. The all-organic produce, cultivated by around 20 gardeners, will be grown using aeroponic vertical farming methods.

We don’t throw anything away

“Our produce will be available across the whole of the city in a variety of shops, restaurants and schemes,” adds Hardy.

There’s evidence that Hardy’s urban farms will be a success. “We’ve had a huge demand for their products, with customers asking specifically for Agripolis produce,” says Jeremy, an assistant at a nearby shop that has been stocking food from the Marais farm for six months. “We just need to cross the road to get the products.”

For now, Hardy’s main challenge is reducing the relatively premium cost of city-grown food, although advances in technology mean it continues to become cheaper. Coupled with low emissions and almost no “food miles”, the few extra cents could be a small price to pay.