Fresh food on Paris rooftops

July 25, 2013

Paris, France

By Philippe Wojazer

Have you ever eaten vegetables grown in central Paris? I have.

“What about growing some carrots in our house’s courtyard or radishes on the balcony?” asked one of my daughters. She said she had heard engineer Nicolas Bel’s interview on the subject. So I called him. As with all those with passions, he could speak about his studies for hours and make you suddenly feel part of it.

“Many Parisians who have a flat roof or a large balcony are thinking to produce their own vegetables. There are many technical constraints to build a rooftop vegetable garden such as weight, depth for the substrate (a minimum of 20 centimeters), wind, sun, water. We are now at the live study stage. We want to be able to build a vegetable garden capable of self-sufficient production. We are recuperating biological waste from people, companies and are growing vegetable in trays. We are testing different combinations, all with no fertilizers or any kind of chemicals. Our fertilizers are produced by worms. The project is: Are we able to grow vegetables on a base of organic waste we can find in urban and peri-urban environments such as wood, compost or cardboard,” Bel explained. “My dream is to have a rooftop garden capable on being financially sufficient. I even work with a chef who is growing some vegetables he uses in his kitchen on the rooftop of his restaurant”. “We are conducting pollution tests on our production and the results are really good”, added Bel, who is in charge of the roof of the AgroParistech institute in Paris and is the founder of Topager company where he uses his knowledge to install rooftop vegetable gardens in schools, restaurants, companies and individuals.

That was my link between this new bio-city agriculture and a story to tell.

So we went in the early morning to the 6th floor of the Mutualite building in central Paris to meet Sibylle, a bio-agronomy student who is in charge of this vegetable garden. She was collecting yellow zucchinis from Orgeval, beans, parsley and chives to give to chef Eric Castandet who cooks in the “Terroir Parisien” on the ground-floor of the same building. Today’s special was: Stuffed yellow zucchinis. Sous-chef Nicolas Bouchard started cutting the zucchinis and the rest of vegetables to prepare the recipe. At noon, the restaurant opened. Thirty reservations to start and after an hour, the daily specials were gone. Castandet had put one aside for me and said I had to leave my cameras in the kitchen and taste his cooking. Resisting would have been impossible. The zucchinis were absolutely delicious. Chef Castandet told me that the taste of the tomatoes he grows, like all the vegetables on his roof top, with no chemicals is incomparable to what you could find elsewhere. After the bees on the rooftop of the famous Tour d’Argent restaurant, sheep in a green space owned by the French capital archives service, what will the future hold and what will be the impact of this phenomenon of urban agriculture in France? Is it just a trend or a new way to learn about food production?

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