Cities test limits of urban agriculture

Hundreds of immaculate white columns dotted with small cylindrical outlets cover the rooftop of the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles exhibition center in the south of the French capital.

Fragrant basil, scarlet strawberries, and unwieldy masses of dark green kale are among the colorful produce sprouting from each hole, forming part of a soil-less farming device known as an aeroponic growing tower.

“You see, there’s nothing in there,” says Eugénie Mercier, pulling out a bunch of kale to reveal its roots dangling freely inside the plastic structure. “When we water them, the plants take what is needed, and we recycle the leftover water, so none is wasted.”

Mercier is the manager of Nature Urbaine, Europe’s largest urban rooftop farm, which opened in the spring of 2020. At 14,000 square meters (150,000 square feet), its surface is almost as large as the playing area of the Stade de France football pitch not far away, and it can produce more than 10 tons of fruit and vegetables per season, using neither pesticides nor soil. According to manufacturer Agripolis, its computer-controlled hydroponic and aeroponic systems use 80% less water and produce 62% fewer CO2 emissions than a conventional farm for the same yield. Last year it was recognized by Ecocert, a French certification organization, as the first urban farm in the world to net offset carbon.


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