Only last week, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm, Agripolis, opened in the centre of Paris. A 14,000 sqm garden (think two football pitches in size) which sits above an exhibition centre, the 15th arrondissement farm yields 1,000kg of fruit and veg each day for local shops and restaurants, and the farm’s own restaurant with its glorious views across the city landscape.
Agripolis is run on strictly sustainable principles - no pesticides please. Instead, the produce is sprayed with a nutrient-rich mist, in a process known as aeroponic farming. And from a landscaper’s point of view, the interesting thing is how simply but attractively the farm is laid out, with rows and rows of planters and decking that wouldn’t look out of place in any glitzy roof-top commercial scheme.
Like the city farms that have been springing up in London since the late 1970s – there are around 15 now – the Paris farm is run as a kind of co-operative by DIY people who’ve rejected the hefty food miles and bland, homogenized offerings of long-supply-chain retailers. But not all urban farming is small-scale, semi-allotment style activity. Big business is starting to sense an opportunity, particularly in vertical farming, with converted offices blocks or disused warehouses providing perfect growing grounds for the hollow cylindrical towers that support plant cultivation.
Any landscape gardener visiting a vertical farm would feel instantly at home wandering through these mini canyons of lush vegetation, neatly laid out in multiple assorted planters.
It’s a fast-growing scene. From a standing start, with no vertical farms until 2010, the market’s now worth nearly £2bn worldwide, and predicted to reach £10bn by 2026.
The UK has a thriving if still fledgling vertical faming scene. A Scottish firm, Shockingly Fresh, has plans to develop 40 sites, and Ocado invested £17m in the sector last year, which included a joint venture in the Netherlands called Infinite Acres. It’s also taken a stake in a Lincolnshire vertical farming business producing 420 tonnes of veg a year.
Back in London, one of the best examples of urban farming sits 33m below the streets of Clapham in a series of tunnels built as air-raid shelters in the Second World War. Using the latest hydroponic systems and LED technology, crops are grown year-round in a pesticide-free environment. Pea shoots, red mustard, garlic chives, rocket, coriander and fennel are among the items supplied to local restaurants and wholesalers at New Covent Garden and Borough Market.
So, while many urbanites look to escape to supposedly safer suburban or countryside dwellings, it is heartening to know new life is emerging in many large cities and growing fast. Any landscape architect looking for new opportunities might be surprised at the fertile prospects.
Many businesses and housing developments in London, Paris and elsewhere in the world are looking to create urban food growing areas for staff and residents in small roof tops and courtyards – providing people with their own on-site allotments. This can provide urban dwellers with a chance to produce their own food and have contact with nature. Like with all green infrastructure in cities, this can increase health and well-being.
Here at Kinley, we’d be delighted to discuss how our ranges of planters, edging, decking and support structures could fit in with the aspirations of budding urban farmers. Do get in touch and see if we can plant a few seeds together.
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