Teenagers play soccer under the sun amid HLM buildings in the Parisian suburbs. Under their feet, lettuce and herbs grow under ultraviolet light in an old disused parking lot. In Sartrouville (Yvelines), in the heart of the underprivileged neighborhood of Les Indes, the urban farm of Champerché has taken over this 1,300 square meters of land to install its above-ground crops. Objective: to show that this form of urban agriculture is possible on a large scale. Report.
Safia Zalagh, 54, short, gel-coated black hair, knows this parking lot well. In her youth she met her friends there “to go out, to dance, to take care of those who had too much to drink. We had arranged the space, it was comfortable”remembers the laughter of this local resident.
From now on, Champerché wants to develop soilless cultivation there to demonstrate that this solution, already tested in Paris on a 42 m² farm, is feasible on a larger scale. “We want to industrialize production, so the size of the place was decisive”explains Guillaume Fuyet, one of the three founders of the company, responsible for research and development.
How did this parking lot turn from a youth squat into a state-of-the-art hydroponic farm?
A project “with social significance”
“We wanted to settle in Yvelines because we lived there for a long time as children, with my brothers”, proposes Antoine Fuyet, director of Champerché. The siblings met the mayor of Sartrouville, Pierre Fond (LR), who referred them to the Indies district and rivaled the social landlord 1001. “With the demolition and reconstruction project” buildings, “there is space in the city”presents Nicolas Brunet, regional director of the social landlord. “The parking lot had been rejected for about fifteen years because of damage.”
With the installation of Champerché, “everyone wins” considers the representative of the HLM lessor. “It is a project with social significance, which is not rejected by the residents.”
During the works, which lasted almost a year (rehabilitation, installation of planks, etc.), the inhabitants of the city, intrigued, paraded in front of the car park to find out more. “Even before we opened, we received at least 30 applications”, recalls Grégoire Silva, treasurer of the company. After interviews, six people are hired, four of whom live in or around the neighbourhood.
Safia was recruited in August as an ‘urban farmer’. “I was a landscape gardener, I know how to plant trees, but I had never planted seeds before”, mimics the fifty-year-old dynamic. Now, when she sows dill, her gestures are assured. “They taught me everything, it’s a great team.”
“From the beginning, our desire was to hire people from the city of India”,
Guillaume Fuyet, one of the three founders of Champerché.
Grow hundreds of varieties in bioponics
The new recruits came in to install the crops. “The tubs, the cranes, we make it all happen”Safia says, pointing to the shelves where her precious salads grow. Equipment needed to set up a bioponic culture: the roots of the plants are bathed in a solution of water and “organic” fertilizer, without pesticides. “There are fungi, bacteria… that gives flavor to our products, unlike most soilless crops that use mineral solutions and are criticized for having no taste”explains Guillaume Fuyet.
The unsanitary parking lot has become an anthill. Above-ground crops grow on four levels, in nine huge rooms. Every day Thai basil, coriander or mint is harvested and then delivered to customers, supermarkets or restaurants. “I presented a certain currency from Peru, restaurant owners are in demand”says Guillaume Ripoche, knowledgeable about the 60,000 plants grown in Champerché. “Now I have to produce!”