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August 2019

Current Issue: August 2019

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Welcome to a world of travel, entertainment and culture, curated from a global collective of writers, photojournalists and artists. Each article of our award-winning magazine is sure to inspire, no matter which of our destinations you call home.
 
 
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Travel to Paris

 
 

Greenify the city of lights

1 August 2019

Farmers in Paris? Bahoui. Meet five French agriculteurs who are sourcing straight from their city’s walls, rooftops and tunnels

Audric de Campeau — Miel de Paris
Discreet safety cables run along the top of the 18th Century facade of Paris Mint, right on the bank of the Seine. Wearing a harness, 36-year-old Audric de Campeau climbs up to his beehives, perched on the building’s majestic rooftop. He opens one of the hives and lifts up a frame covered in bees. He looks for the queen, he inspects the workers’ health. He seems completely oblivious to the sweeping views surrounding him: of the Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou. Why the rooftops? It’s more sunny, he says, which is good for the bees. And away from the prying public.
De Campeau’s “Miel de Paris” is one of the world’s most expensive honeys, selling for almost US$150 per kilo. It’s hardly a surprise: it’s cultivated atop the city’s most famous buildings, including the Musée d’Orsay. Campeau says that in certain ways beekeeping in the capital is easier than in the countryside. “The bees are very healthy in Paris,” he says.
First, there are no pesticides in the city. And second, the gardens of Paris, including the botanical gardens, offer bees an unusual and exotic abundance of flowers: from the Japanese pagoda tree and Crimean lime to Mexican orange blossom. That’s why the honey has a unique taste – one cherished by many local chefs.
Yet there are challenges, too. Honey is heavy, and carrying it down during harvest is tough. That’s why Campeau is grateful that an elevator at the Paris Mint runs to the rooftop. Well, almost. There is still the climbing, the wearing of the harness. It’s worth it, he says.

Olivier Fontenas — La REcyclerie
Olivier Fontenas is proud of his earthworms – an indication of his farm’s health. As part of a France-wide programme to monitor earthworms, the soil at La REcyclerie has been recently analysed by an expert. “He said he has never seen so many earthworms,” Fontenas smiles. “That’s because we don’t exhaust our soil.”
Occupying the site of an abandoned, 19th Century Parisian train station, La REcyclerie farm looks like a jungle. The air is thick with scents of aromatic herbs, edible flowers, wet mulch. Along the ancient rail tracks grows a wealth of vegetables and fruits: tomatoes, beans, blackberries, zucchini. There is also a restaurant where you can eat the farm’s produce transformed into delicious, vegetarian meals, and a repair-shop where locals bring their broken toasters and hairdryers for a fix.
Fontenas, who has a master’s degree in ecosystem management, works hard with his colleagues to ensure that the farm is as sustainable as possible. Seventeen chickens eat table scraps from the restaurant. Two ducks, Minussio and Daisy, devour the farm’s pests: slugs and snails. Several different composting solutions nourish the farm’s soils. “There are also plants that protect others, like basil protecting tomatoes. The more diversity you have, the more difficult it is for diseases or pests to spread around,” Fontenas says.
The challenges? Just like in rural areas, where have ravens and boars ravage crops, in the city there are rats and pigeons to contend with. There is air pollution, too, but luckily the rail tracks are relatively secluded, closed off from the Parisian hustle and bustle. Still, La REcyclerie’s production undergoes strict sanitary controls to make sure urban pollution doesn’t affect the quality.

Jean-Noël Gertz — La Caverne
The entrance to La Caverne looks like that to any other Parisian underground parking lot. You go down a sloping ramp – one level, two. But what you soon notice is that there are no cars in sight. Then, the scents hit you: of moisture and rich soil. That’s where the mushrooms grow.
Jean-Noël Gertz wanted to be a farmer, but money was an issue, so he figured out he would find a place no one else wanted – an abandoned parking lot near Porte de la Chapelle. It was a win-win: the city administrators got rid of a place full of drug-using squatters, Gertz got his farm.
Admittedly, there was a bit of work to be done at first. Test air quality, improve ventilation. Drive out the squatters. But now Gertz claims the production is not that much different from your typical farm. “It’s traditional agriculture in a place that’s not very traditional,” he says. Today, just two years after the opening, the farm is running full steam ahead: they grow oyster mushrooms, shiitake and endives (which love darkness). Each week the team – which includes Nicolas Garner and Théo Champagnat – harvests 1.5 tonnes of endives and 300kg of mushrooms. They sell almost everything locally: it’s more environmentally friendly this way, but also better for the taste. And since car ownership in the city is declining, more unused parking lots are being transformed into farms. Gertz and his team have recently taken over another lot in the 19th arrondissement, where they’ve started production of button mushrooms – les champignons de Paris.

Sylviane Leplâtre — Montmartre winery
The Montmartre winery was’t really planted to produce wine. It was planted, back in 1933, to stop construction of a residential building. And even though today it produces about a thousand bottles of good quality red and rosé wines each year, the vignoble’s unusual origin still remains a challenge. “It has north exposure, little sun, plus wrong grape varieties for these conditions,” says Sylviane Leplâtre, an oenologist who takes care of the winery, splitting time between Paris and the vignobles of southern France. When she comes to Montmartre, she checks the health of the plants. Are there any pests? Fungus? Birds are an issue in Paris, there are simply so many of them here – the plants have to be covered with special nets for protection. Another challenge is keeping the winery beautiful. Montmartre is a tourist hotspot. Each year thousands of people come by the winery to admire it, to take photos. A typical vignoble in Burgundy or Provence could look quite poorly, but produce exquisite wines. Here in Montmartre, aesthetics are as important as taste.
Despite the obstacles, Clos Montmartre is a good wine – easy to drink. The red tastes of black fruits with a hint of pepper. What’s more, with climate change, Leplâtre wouldn’t be surprised to see the wine really blossom in terms of quality in coming years. “In ten, fifteen years this type of plantation with northern exposure could actually become a plus,” she smiles.

Lucas Lebrun — La Parisienne
A group of men kick a soccer ball across a grassy field, their yells echoing through the open-air Déjerine stadium in the 20th arrondissement. Around the perimeter three gardeners are deep at work: weeding around the hundreds of hop plants that climb the outer walls of the stadium. One of them is Lucas Lebrun, who calls himself “communication manager and a part-time farmer.”
After the inaugural harvest at Déjerine stadium, Lebrun’s artisanal brewery, La Parisienne, produced its first beer based on 100 per cent Parisian hops – “Intramuros”. The brewery has several sites across the city, growing hops on the facades of buildings – even in the historic district Le Marais. But these proved very challenging, Lebrun says. The access to water is poor, and the top rings to which the hop plants are attached are high up, so much so that only gardeners with mountaineering experience can tend to them. The stadium is easier, although not without its own issues. Lebrun and his team had to give up on one of the walls because local boys kept bouncing balls off it, destroying the plants.
Still, the harvests are good, and car exhaust isn’t an issue – hop doesn’t accumulate pollution the way tomatoes do. The “Intramuros” beer is environmentally friendly: it’s local and organic. It tastes good, too, with its sweet, slightly floral notes. And it’s not just about selling beverages. It’s about the community, too. For the harvest La Parisienne invited locals to participate. There was food. There were drinks – and a feeling that farming can unite people, remind the urbanites of their roots, bring them closer to nature. “That’s a big deal for us,” Lebrun says.

Words: Marta Zaraska
Images: Andrea Mantovani

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