As a recently published article from the Huffington Post suggests, very few people remember that pigs and cows were once running around Paris and that what we now know as the “Banlieue” (pronounce ban – li – you) or the suburbs, were farm land.
Today the idea of re-integrating some rural activities at the heart of the capital city seems to be back in fashion as countless projects of roof farming and underground farming flourish.
Often the idea is to reduce the distance between the farm lands and the consumers to ensure better traceability of the products and lesser pollution. In Paris, the AgroParisTech school developed a small scale farm on its rooftop. They use the city’s recycled waste to recreate an environment where vegetables can grow and add worms, insects and fungi help to maintain and nourish the soil.
Another famous project, although not yet implemented is Dickson Despommier’s Vertical Farm.
However, observers argue that the main draw back from such projects is their high cost, between 80 and 100 million US dollars.
If engineers dream of growing turnips and tomatoes in Paris, they all agree that it wouldn’t do for cereals and cattle which require much larger portions of land. The Huffington Post cites a French urban planning study to show that the city has 320 hectares of potentially greened areas in of which 80 would be “easily” plantable.
So is it really worth it?
For Nicolas Bel who developed the AgroParisTech kitchen farm yes. “If we take a very simplistic and optimistic assumption of 5 kilos of fresh vegetables per square meter of 320 hectares, it would make 32,000 tons of vegetables per year”, he says to the Huff, “still enough to provide 230,000 Parisians fresh vegetables”.
Around the World
Vertical farms and roof top gardens are blossoming all over the world. Here are some examples of most developed initiatives:
But it’s not only about cutting edge architecture, cheaper goods and eco-friendly gestures. Those initiatives encourage people to go back to the social function of agriculture.
The practice of farming
For city dwellers in France and elsewhere, there is a will to re-connect with nature, re-connect with the soil, with seasons, with animals and also with people. This is what urban farming is also about.
Community gardens for instance are very popular in France. They encourage people from a same neighborhood to gather around a common project: creating a garden.
Most schools and some medical institutions also organize frequent gardening activities or trips to the farm.