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Urban agriculture, a meeting point between urban and rural worlds

Urban agriculture, a meeting point between urban and rural worlds

Published on January 18, 2012
France has a long history with urban and peri-urban agriculture. At the end of the 19th century, allotments had been made available mostly in the suburbs of big French cities by the local authorities for their inhabitants in order to provide social balance and food self-sufficiency.
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Nowadays, around these cities, we still notice those little pieces of green areas that have known a sharp increase these past few years. As surprising as it seems, it is not unusual to see, tomatoes, salads or zucchinis growing on balconies in Paris, Lyon, Toulouse or Nantes.

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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture - Pascal Xicluna

Urban agriculture is the development of farming practices in and around the cities. It is a kind of agriculture integrated in the urban economy and ecosystems. It can be driven by professional farmers or by urban people in search of nature; on private, shared or public areas; market-oriented or for self-consumption. Historically, fruits and vegetables are the main crops grown around French cities, but you can also see, while wandering in Paris, the famous vineyard of Montmartre or some bee hives on Parisian roofs.

A real strategic plan needs to drive this kind of agriculture: as little space as possible has to be used, especially in cities like Paris where space is so rare. Systems all more ingenious than the others were born to address these issues. Beyond gardens and allotments, roofs, balconies and window sills are involved. Many tomato plants are grown in bags on balconies with organic waste as compost and wastewater for irrigation.

Urban agriculture is a key component to maintaining a strong link between rural and urban people. Today, urban people feel strongly about the importance of lands, seasonality, quality and traceability. Urban agriculture responds to all of these concerns. Whether people have their own kitchen garden or rely on a farmer located near their city, they can know how their food is produced. The link is direct between the city-dweller and his products or his producer. Most of the time, an urban or peri-urban farmer uses direct ways of sales: the delivery of vegetables and fruit baskets, by the AMAP (Association to Maintain Peasant Agriculture) for example… Behind this strong link are hidden various concepts.

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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture

Urban agriculture has above all a social and educational role. Shared gardens are a real opportunity for urban people to do something together, to meet regularly and often to teach children or just people who want to learn about agriculture but don’t know anything about it. How does a vegetable grow, why does it need water, why it is better to plant a certain kind of vegetable in a certain period of the year … These are the questions answered with urban agriculture.

Urban agriculture is a great way to eat/buy to local food, that is to say, food produced at lower cost, with fewer greenhouse gases emissions and energy use. This kind of agriculture is also a way to fight urban pressure, by maintaining a ‘green break.’ Urban agriculture is often seen as a new form of sustainable agriculture.

Many French local authorities support this kind of agriculture, by providing space to create, for instance, a shared garden, or by buying tools needed for gardening. For example, since 2009, the municipality of Toulouse has supported about ten projects of common gardens by providing public space to implement them. These gardens have to meet a charter of which main objectives are: the gardens must be the result of a participatory approach and be respectful of the environment.

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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture - Michel Lavoix

For the past few years, urban agriculture has become a major trend in French cities. The city-dwellers show a real interest to become more involved in their food, or at least to know more about it, about the way of production or about the producer himself. Moreover, it is linked to the important consumer concern about environment, climate change, and the desire to eat better.

On May 24th and 25th 2010, one of Paris’s main thoroughfares, the Champs-Elysées, was covered with dirt and turned into a huge green space in an event named ‘Nature Capitale’ organized by young French farmers. Plants, trees, flowers and cattle were brought in by lorry overnight to transform the avenue into a long green strip. Some 150,000 plants were installed — including 650 fully grown trees — representing agricultural produce from the marshes of the Camargue to the plains of Picardy. More than two million urban visitors were able to share agriculture and landscape management with farmers in Paris.

You might also be interested in these articles:
- The Hidden World of Parisian Wines (Video)

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2 hours is the time spent every day on average by French people at the table, eating