La Presse in Paris | An urban vertical greenhouse to cultivate a taste for food

(Paris) It is an island of greenery in the middle of a popular district, with a social and above all educational mission. In Romainville, on the outskirts of Paris, a new “market gardening city” produces fruit and vegetables in a vertical greenhouse, offering young people and residents the chance to learn about urban agriculture. First feared by local elected officials, the model implemented today shows inspiring results.


Published at 12:56 a.m.

Updated at 7:00 a.m.

“It was always clear from the start that it would be above all an educational place, in a working-class neighborhood, with a desire for attractive and advantageous pricing for the residents,” says the general director of the Romainville Market Gardening City, Yuna Conan. , as we tour its premises.

The project, born from the wishes of the former municipal administration, finally came to fruition in February 2021. With six floors and a basement, the building houses a series of vertical vegetable crops. In other words, each floor communicates to let in as much light as possible.

Every day, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, different types of lettuce, as well as spinach or mesclun are grown there.

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    PHOTO HENRI OUELLETTE-VÉZINA, THE PRESS

    The Romainville Market Gardening City, on the outskirts of Paris, is driven by its social and educational mission.

  • >An area of ​​700 m2 is devoted to agricultural exploitation.>

    PHOTO HENRI OUELLETTE-VÉZINA, THE PRESS

    An area of ​​700 m2 is devoted to agricultural exploitation.

  • >The layout of the greenhouse allows maximum light to enter.>

    PHOTO HENRI OUELLETTE-VÉZINA, THE PRESS

    The layout of the greenhouse allows maximum light to enter.

  • >In the basement of the building, 130 m2 are allocated to different mushroom and endive crops.>

    PHOTO HENRI OUELLETTE-VÉZINA, THE PRESS

    In the basement of the building, 130 m2 are allocated to the different crops of mushrooms and endives.

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In addition to agriculture, the entrance opens onto educational spaces, which receive classes of students daily. They receive training on cooking, nutrition and the benefits of urban agriculture. Nearby, there is a restaurant, where chefs use the fruit of the harvest.

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PHOTO HENRI OUELLETTE-VÉZINA, THE PRESS

The exterior of the Romainville market garden building

One step at a time

To get there, however, the road was long and strewn with obstacles, discussions having first begun at the turn of the 2010s, as part of a vast urban renewal project.

“At the beginning, we were a municipal facility that was not very well managed. The elected officials didn’t really see the potential,” recalls M.me Conan. “Then, slowly, it evolved and they realized the benefits. »

We then worked a lot on the economic model of the project. Today, we have become a city-wide urban agriculture department.

Yuna Conan, general director of the Romainville Market Gardening City

His group is in fact carrying out several other projects in parallel, including an orchard combined with a vegetable garden and a food processing space in Gagarine, very close to Romainville. An “educational microfarm” project is also being developed in the Pantin sector, a suburb a little further from Paris.

On a city scale, the Romainville Market Gardening City has also recently set up the Festival of Gourmet Transitions, the first edition of which was held last September, with the aim of showcasing local gastronomy.

A market is also organized every Wednesday; Dozens of people can then obtain the week’s harvest. “We have gained enormously in efficiency. Now, we’re really rolling. Already last year, we had the best scores in terms of performance,” says the head of culture, Étienne Sahy, in an interview.

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PHOTO HENRI OUELLETTE-VÉZINA, THE PRESS

Yuna Conan and Étienne Sahy

“It’s easier now, we feel it. At the beginning, there was a whole set-up to be done, which came with adjustments, things that were not perfect. There, we are elsewhere, we are launched,” adds Mr. Sahy.

Year in, year out, its teams also serve around fifteen professional customers, mostly restaurants and food counters, but also a school canteen. A plant sale is also organized three times a year. All this, with only 20 employees.

Towards more gentrification?

Next June, the Romainville area risks gentrification at high speed, with the extension of metro line 11 which will allow new residents to settle there. A perspective which further demonstrates the need to maintain places like the Market Garden City, affirms Yuna Conan.

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PHOTO HENRI OUELLETTE-VÉZINA, THE PRESS

“We really don’t want to be a place for sore people. Nevertheless, there will be challenges in getting new residents who arrive here with their means to coexist in a working-class neighborhood,” she believes.

In his eyes, projects like that of his team can help unite a neighborhood.

It is a place of popular education and training, where we put into perspective what nature is in the city, zero waste, transition professions. This is crucial for a society.

Yuna Conan, general director of the Romainville Market Gardening City

As in Montreal, waiting lists for community gardens are “very large” in Paris. “Developing projects like ours on a departmental scale, in this context, can enormously help people reclaim their space,” concludes the manager.

Starting next year, it will also hire an employee who will, among other things, be responsible for working more on the governance system, in order to find new development opportunities. And who knows, maybe one day, market gardening towns will sprout up almost everywhere in the Paris region.

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