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Strawberries and sensors on the roof : Haussmann’s “Jardin Perché”

A few feet away from the Haussmann Boulevard’s hubbub, on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette, a startup called Sous les Fraises has set up a responsible garden where fruit, vegetables and plants grow. A story of green, a story of coming together.  

“When I joined Sous les Fraises in early 2016, rewinds Marie Dehaene, the Haussmann “Jardin Perché” already existed, and I had met the founders simply because I worked in urban agriculture – we might’ve been four to be interested, at the time”. Sous les Fraises is now the French leader of urban agriculture, taking care of 10 000 m2 of biodiversity on 15 sites located in cities all over France. The company’s first installation, Haussmann’s “Jardin Perché” served as a catalyst. 

 

When a nonprofit from Grenoble sets foot on a legendary Parisian building
At the beginning, in 2006, Yohan Hubert meets Laure-Line Jacquier in Grenoble. He just finished designing a membrane that helps the soilless cultivation of fruit and flowers, and she just graduated from her school of architecture, where she handed in her dissertation about integrating that membrane to construction. They create the Association Française de Culture Hors sol (French association of hydroponics) in Grenoble and improve their solution until 2013, when they answer the urban green spaces call for proposals launched by the city of Paris and the Haussmann Paris Galeries Lafayette. Their project is called “Paris sous les Fraises” and, even though she hadn’t joined the team at the time, Marie Dehaene is happy to tell the story of “the perfect meeting between an emblematic building such as the Haussmann Galeries Lafayette and people who knew how to grow stuff on roofs, with a real vision. The technique was already there, all they needed was a place to show what it could do. Then, things could speed up”. 

 

Because technology can (also) help cities breathe
The nonprofit turns into a startup called Sous les Fraises in early 2015, and the Haussmann “Jardin Perché” is inaugurated in June 2015. Working as a consultant in urban agriculture back then, Marie Dehaene joins the team to answer the Galerie Lafayette group’s new requests : BHV store in Le Marais, Paris, the Galeries Lafayette store in Annecy… “What I liked about them is that while I had seen technophile projects looking for efficiency on one hand or nonprofits on the other, Sous les Fraises mixed the two approaches. They wanted to “crack” the model of urban agriculture but didn’t forget the values they held when it was a civic project”. In terms of technology, a patented system combines organic membranes made out of hemp, sheep wool and recycled fibers that allow plants to grow soilless with a custom application that helps evaluate the plants’ needs with sensors to answer those needs in real time. That’s how technology helps nature to grow plants on roofs, sheltered from soil pollution as well as particles put out by tailpipes, nearly absent over the 3rd floor. 

 

“It’s easier for people to buy a basket of strawberries than biodiversity”
Once it’s possible to grow eatable plants in the heart of the city, the civic project can lean on the market to serve its cause. “It’s easier for people to buy a basket of strawberries than biodiversity, states Marie Dehaene. It’s simpler, an easier story to tell”. So the startup sells the fruit, vegetables, aromatic or eatable plants it cultivates on the roofs. “We were joined by chefs for the first try, elaborates our specialist: we can pick fresh produce at 5 a.m. and have them ready to use in kitchens for lunch. Chefs like Pascal Barbot, who had three Michelin stars at the time, acted as quality guarantors for the general public”. Done reassuring, Sous les Fraises started transforming its products to put them on the market all year long: they found partners such as beekeepers, distillers, brewers, pâtissiers or canners and the Galeries Lafayette let them open corners in their stores to offer their products to the public. Nothing but happy encounters, according to Marie Dehaene: “we didn’t think we would make some Vodka, for example, but the person who created the only distillery in Paris, Nicolas Julhès, is crazy about plants, and he wanted to take advantage of an urban greenhouse that’s only a 10 minute bike ride away from his distillery”. 

 

Another vision of the city, greener and more independent, that only needs to inspire others. To see the Haussmann “Jardin Perché” up close and meet Sous les Fraises’s enthusiastic team, visit visite.souslesfraises.com to book a tour, in English or in French.

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