Paris Introduces 32 More Sites for Urban Farming
By Emilie Baliozian
Paris is famous across the world for its food, art and romance. But let it be known that Paris is also a leader when it comes to dedicating public and private land to urban farming.
The city launched its Parisculteurs initiative in 2016 with the ambitious goal of covering the city's rooftops and walls with 100 hectares (247 acres) of vegetation by 2020. According to the city’s plan, one third of all this new green space will be dedicated to urban farming.
After 2 successful editions of Parisculteurs, where farmers, contractors, designers, architects and more came together to fulfill the goal of greening the city, season 3 of Parsiculteurs was officially launched this January.
This year, the city of Paris introduced 32 new sites suitable for urban agriculture projects. Last week, as part of this season’s call for proposals, deputy mayor of Paris Penelope Komites, in charge of the city's parks and green spaces, hosted a workshop to present the new call for proposals and to prolong the conversations of Season 1 and 2, as well as to examine the projects that had come to fruition in the last few years.
Professionalization of urban farmers
In her opening remarks at the Parisculteurs workshop this year, Komites stressed the importance of urban agriculture as a powerful vehicle for urban resilience, social ties, and job creation. The Parisculteurs program is meant to reinvent our relationship to food, to nature, and to the city by reintroducing the concept of farming, which has historically been excluded from urban contexts. More specifically, the program is meant to reinforce the professionalization and skills-building of urban agriculture professionals who wish to contribute to making Paris a model city for urban sustainability.
The workshop gave prospective farmers the opportunity to turn to urban agriculture professionals for technical advice, and for these professionals to share their experiences building and running urban farms in and around the city. The first half of the workshop was dedicated to a panel of public and private professionals, where technical issues such as operations, regulation, economic modeling, landscaping, and sanitation were explored. The second part of the workshop was dedicated to an activity where groups of 6-8 attendees were assigned a site and in charge of coming up with an urban ag proposal for that site’s specific context.
Transitioning urban ag out of the experimental stage
A major takeaway from the workshop is the need to transition urban agriculture out of the experimental stage and into a more established stage with models that are profitable, modular and replicable to other cities. Paris has made strides with sanitary, architectural, and landscaping issues, but legislation is now the next step in facilitating the rapid and massive deployment of urban agriculture in the city. As of now, prospective farmers must receive permits to operate (autorisation d’exploiter), declare their business to the Agriculture and Food Chamber, secure social protection (Mutualité Sociale Agricole), and thoroughly go through sanitary codes to put out healthy and risk-free produce into the market and to protect consumers and producers alike.
Financing urban ag
Another takeaway from the workshop is that the financing of farms is getting easier. Panelist Marion Laumonier was invited to present Miimosa, the first company to provide crowdfunding dedicated to agriculture and food-related projects. Miimosa allows for the general public to mobilize support for a project of their choice in exchange for either produce, experiences, services, and other exclusive benefits, or in exchange for a financial return with interest.
The slight hitch being that loans are not guaranteed, urban farms remain a highly successful venture. For instance, panelist Clément Torpier stated that 95% of projects as part of the Jeunes Agriculteurs program were still around 10 years later. Yet this high success rate does not necessarily reflect the experience of other farms, who often have to find other income streams like pedagogical workshops and tours to break even. Panelist Cyrielle Français from Agricool explained that while the vertical farming startup received a lot of funding – USD $28 million in their latest round – the real challenge lies in the fact that they only have 3 years to prove their profitability.
The urban-rural ag synergy
On another note, the need to maintain strong relationships between urban and rural farmers could not be understated. Self-sufficiency in cities is impossible – there are many staple crops we rely on (wheat, corn, potatoes) that are not quite compatible with urban agriculture and are best suited for traditional agriculture. Inversely, urban farms can produce fresh and local greens that don't make as much sense to grow in fields because they quickly lose their nutritional quality during transportation. It is thus of critical importance to preserve not only relationships with rural farmers but to preserve their agricultural land.
Jeanne Combrez, operations manager at Fermes de Gally, a rural farm in the outskirts of Paris, stressed the need for a synergistic relationship with rural farmers, who for the most part are unmoved by the hype and trendiness urban farming gets in the news for something humans have been practicing for millenia. She believes urban farmers have a responsibility to make that co-dependence clear in their mission statements, to promote the practices of rural farmers, and to acknowledge the technical know-how that rural farmers have provided to allow urban agriculture to become what it is today. Leadership is thus needed to connect and engage the two groups to collectively improve the food system as a whole.
Connecting the industry
Just as New York City has a local agriculture collective, in France there is also a regional network of urban farmers called the French Association for Professional Urban Agriculture (AFAUP). Panelist Anouck Barcat explained the origin and mission of the association, borne of the need to consolidate efforts and share best practices among the various actors in the field.
Within the association there are groups that advise on legal, technical, and commercial matters. From her experience collaborating with stakeholders, she gave two solid pieces of advice for prospective farmers: first, to never sign a document without a thorough and technical diagnostic of a farm given France’s strict regulations, and second, to associate oneself with complementary people who can bring a variety of skills and experiences to the table.
The City of Paris understands that need for urban farmers to federate and share best practices. Workshops like these are these offer the unique opportunity for experienced farmers to transmit their know-how and experience, and for prospective farmers to anticipate and be prepared for the challenges that await as they pursue their project.
Although each city has its own climate and set of challenges and regulations, local governments must take note of the Parisculteurs program and its exemplary efforts to support and advance urban agriculture.
About the author: Emilie Baliozian is Sustainability Analyst at Agritecture Consulting and the founder of Climate Communicators, a platform offering communication tools and consulting services to those leading the fight against climate change.