The Largest Urban Rooftop Farm in the World is Now Bearing Fruit (and More) in Paris

Getting fresh produce into the heart of a major city used to be done by a fleet of rumbling, polluting trucks—now it’s a matter of bringing it down from the roof.

The largest urban rooftop farm in the world uses vertical growing techniques to create fruits and vegetables right in the center of Paris without the use of pesticides, refrigerated trucks, chemical fertilizer, or even soil.

Nature Urbaine uses aeroponic techniques that are now supplying produce to local residents, including nearby hotels, catering halls, and more. For a price of 15 euro, residents can order a basket of produce online containing a large bouquet of mint or sage, a head of lettuce, various young sprouts, two bunches of radishes and one of chard, as well as a jar of jam or puree.

“The composition may change slightly depending on the harvest,” Sophie Hardy, director of Nature Urbaine, tells French publication Agri City. Growing on 3.4 acres, about the size of two soccer pitches, atop the Paris Exhibition Center, they are also producing about 150 baskets of strawberries, as well as aubergines, tomatoes, and more.

Speaking to the Guardian, Pascal Hardy, a sustainable development consultant and member of Agripolis, an urban farming firm, called the Nature Urbaine project in Paris “a clean, productive and sustainable model of agriculture that can in time make a real contribution to the resilience—social, economic and also environmental—of the kind of big cities where most of humanity now lives.”

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Sci-Fi Farming

Currently only a third of the total space on hall 6 of the expo center is utilized for Pascal’s alien-looking garden, and when the project is finished, 20 staff will be able to harvest up to 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg) of perhaps 35 different kinds of fruits and vegetables every day.

Photos by Agripolis

In plastic towers honeycombed with little holes, small amounts of water carrying nutrients, bacteria, and minerals, aerate roots which hang in midair.

As strange as the pipes and towers out of which grow everything other than root vegetables might seem, Hardy says the science-fiction farming has major benefits over traditional agriculture.

“I don’t know about you,” he begins, “but I don’t much like the fact that most of the fruit and vegetables we eat have been treated with something like 17 different pesticides, or that the intensive farming techniques that produced them are such huge generators of greenhouse gases.”

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“It uses less space. An ordinary intensive farm can grow nine salads per square meter of soil; I can grow 50 in a single tower. You can select crop varieties for their flavor, not their resistance to the transport and storage chain, and you can pick them when they’re really at their best, and not before.”

Agripolis

Breaking the chain

Agripolis is currently discussing projects in the U.S., the UK, and Germany, and they have finished several other rooftop farms in France including one on the roof of the Mercure hotel in 2016, which cultivates eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, salads, watercress, strawberries, nasturtiums and aromatics all directly serving the hotel restaurant.

Growing on the roof and selling on the floor can play a big part in the production of carbon-neutral food because, according to Agripolis, fruit and veg on average travel by refrigerated air and land transport between 2,400 and 4,800 kilometers from farm to market.

The global transportation force is the largest of humanity’s carbon-emitting activities, and reducing the number of flights and truckloads of produce is a great place to start cutting the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere.

For a culinary city like Paris, the Parisian mayor’s proposal to install an additional 320 acres (130 ha) of rooftop and wall-mounted urban farming space could significantly reduce the number of trucks entering the city, easing traffic and reducing pollution.

With rooftop farming being embraced from Detroit to Shanghai, the future is looking up.

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Rival Gangs in Cape Town Agreed to An Unprecedented Truce—and Together Bring Food to the Poor

South Africa has seen a 75% drop in violent crime during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, rival gang members in Cape Town are teaming up to collect and distribute food and essential goods to those in need.

“What we’re seeing happen here is literally a miracle,” Andie Steele-Smith, a pastor who works with gang members in the community, told BBC News.

Before the pandemic, South Africa had some of the highest violent crime rates on the continent. But now, new circumstances have created changes that are leading to a silver lining.

The government has imposed some of the toughest quarantine rules in the world, including banning alcohol and cigarette sales. The economy has taken a beating—and the gang members were feeling the effects as much as anybody else.

“I got a phone call from two gang leaders, both saying ‘Andie, I’ve never asked you for anything but we are starving’,” the Australian-born pastor told BBC News. “And I just thought if these guys are starving—they are at the top of the food-chain—the rest of the community is going to be in serious, serious strife.”

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Andie hatched a plan that would not only meet the needs of the community in the moment, but also show these young people a new sense of purpose in the world. He asked members who would normally be trying to kill each other to work together toward a common goal: providing food and vital supplies, such as soap, to those in need.

Preston Jacobs, a member of the “Americans” gang, told the BBC it “feels nice” to be doing something positive for the community. “Now I see there are nice people also, and people want to love what we’re doing now.”

Andie Steele-Smith

Sansi Hassan of the “Clever Kids” gang expressed hope that the truce would become permanent, saying: “If it can stay like this, then there will be no gang fight,” he said. “And every gang will agree with us.”

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Andie, a former banker who moved from Sydney to South Africa to become a pastor five years ago, expressed pride in what these young men are doing. “I’m proud of you guys. Literally, if I died today and went to heaven I would die a happy man.”

(WATCH the BBC video below)

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In Groundbreaking Vote for Sustainability, EU Moves to Approve Insects for Human Consumption

As famed adventure television host, world record holder, former British Special Forces operator, and all around feel-good motivational guy Bear Grylls repeatedly reminded us on his television programs Man vs Wild and Running Wild, insects have more protein than beef or fish—sometimes as much as 8x more, if measured pound for pound.

After a long television career of pounding back worms, grubs, spiders, crickets, and ants for our amusement, Grylls would certainly be applauding the new proposed European Union legislation that would allow for mealworms, lesser mealworms, crickets, and locusts to be sold as “novel food sources,” pumping life into an industry that, while small, produces 500 tons of food annually according to The Guardian.

The products include things like cricket protein bars, locust aperitif, or mealworm burgers, and the new regulations from the European Food Safety Authority are likely to open the floodgates for insect food to flow from countries where they are made like Holland, the UK, Denmark, Belgium, and Finland, into countries where they are banned, such as Italy, France, and Spain.

“We reckon these authorizations will be a breakthrough for the sector,” Christophe Derrien, secretary general of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, added.

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“They are taking the necessary time, they are very demanding on information, which is not bad. But we believe that once we have the first novel food given a green light from EFSA that will have a snowball effect.”

Companies in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Spain are all preparing to ramp up operations to prepare for the demand, perceiving through market signals that people actually want insect food.

Chirps Chips submitted

An Obvious Solution

Insects have been part of the staple diet of many world cultures, even now in modern times. They represent a rich source of animal protein that is practically immune to extinction, and just like traditionally harvested animals are perfectly safe to eat if you can control the conditions in which they live.

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With some of the most basic brain functions of anything in kingdom Animalia, insects are also less-likely to offend the sensibilities of vegetarians who, being more likely to be vitamin B12 deficient than omnivores, might be able to utilize the occasional cricket bar as a means of supplementing their plant based diet with bioavailable and dietary sources of B12 which can’t be made by plants, coming only from bacteria which live on plants.

Furthermore, unlike hoofed mammals, the process of enteric fermentation which, using the United States as an example, accounts for a small percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions (about 2.5% in the U.S.) is absent in insect agriculture, and so there’s a small potential reduction in GHG emissions to be gained from a switch.

Lastly trillions of insects are killed every year both by combine-harvesters and pesticides to protect major crops like wheat, rice, soya, corn, and cotton, representing millions of tons of lost nutrients. And, in a world where many communities are protein-deficient, insect products might never be more needed.

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Apple and Pear Cores Turned Into Chemical-Free Sweetener as an Alternative to Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar

A Dutch company aptly-called Fooditive, is turning pear and apple cores, as well as bruised and discarded fruit from producers and suppliers into a chemical-free, calorie-free, sugar substitute.

Artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, though legal for use in food and beverages for decades in the United States and elsewhere, are now not only emerging as a potential genotoxin (a poisonous substance which damages DNA), but also as an environmental pollutant since it is not entirely absorbed by our bodies and can travel all the way through our water treatment systems and back into groundwater sources.

Refined cane sugar has its own problems, playing a role in the global skyrocketing rates of diabetes and obesity since the 1950s. Sweeteners and syrups made from corn have much the same effect on our bodies, while also contributing massively to keeping afloat the problematic, uncompetitive American system of agriculture, farm subsidies, and lobbying.

Dutch food scientist Moayad Abushokhedim uses a natural fermentation process to extract fructose from third-rate fruits collected from suppliers and turns it into a calorie-free sweetener that contributes to Rotterdam’s goal of a circular economy by 2030.

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According to the company’s website where you can see a detailed ingredients list, he plans to make Fooditive Sweetners available in powder, liquid, and syrup forms. There is no information yet on how to purchase.

Apart from their sweetener, Fooditive also has a solution for artificial preservatives, creating natural ones from carrot waste, and he counters harmful emulsifiers with potato extracts.

Right now, the company is in the process of expanding their operations to try and get Fooditive products like their sweeteners and preservatives into commercial Dutch foodstuffs.

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“Our products really provide the food and beverage producers with the ability to have a clean label, a green label, and show people what’s in their food,” said Gijs Gieles, Fooditive spokesperson to Fast Company.

These kinds of recycling applications are becoming more and more common in Europe, especially since France passed a law in 2016 forcing supermarkets to recycle, compost, or donate as much of their outgoing or expired stock as possible. Other countries like Germany began to create similar legislation, and a German supermarket SirPlus Rescue Market specializes in discarded, expired, or unwanted packaged foods and produce.

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Cherokee Nation First U.S. Tribe to be Invited to Preserve Their Heirloom Species in Global Seed Vault

With close to 1 million samples from nearly every country on earth, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the remote Svalbard Island, between Norway and the Arctic, contains the largest collection of seeds and other plant specimens in the world.

Last week, the Cherokee Nation became the first Native-American tribe to receive an invitation to contribute seeds of their own heirloom crops and join the effort to ensure biodiversity and food security in the uncertain centuries ahead.

“This is history in the making,” said a Cherokee Nation press release. “It is such an honor to have a piece of our culture preserved forever. Generations from now, these seeds will still hold our history and there will always be a part of the Cherokee Nation in the world.”

The tribal office of the Secretary of Natural Resources collected nine samples of Cherokee heirloom crops to send to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, including Cherokee White Eagle Corn, the tribe’s most sacred corn, which is typically used during cultural activities, and three other varieties of corn grown for consumption in distinct locations to keep the strains pure.

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Other seeds sent to the Svalbard seed bank include Cherokee Long Greasy Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, Cherokee Turkey Gizzard black and brown beans, and Cherokee Candy Roaster Squash.

These heirloom species predate the arrival of Europeans on the American continents, and their preservation offers a chance to secure critical biodiversity for the central North American region in case of crop shortages or other disasters that could result in flora extinction events.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Tiq, CC license

It also ensure that the proud history of the Cherokee will live on through the ages.

In 2019, after being interviewed by National Public Radio about the Cherokee Nation’s own heirloom seed bank program, their Senior Director of Environmental Resources, Pat Gwin was contacted by the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

“He sent me an email and said they would be honored to have the tribe’s seeds in the seed vault,” said Gwin. “…Knowing the Cherokee Nation’s seeds will be forever protected and available to us … is a quite valuable thing indeed.”

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Scientists and Refugees Are Growing Crops in the Desert Using Discarded Mattresses Bound for the Landfill

Photo by University of Sheffield / Desert Gardens

British scientists have succeeded in cultivating tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and herbs in the desert using discarded mattresses bound for landfill.

The innovative system, which was tested in a refugee camp in Jordan, could be rolled out to every shelter in the world, helping millions of people to thrive in barren landscapes.

Since aid workers often discard thousands of used foam mattresses in refugee camps across the globe, University of Sheffield scientists began developing foam “soils” in their labs in hopes of using old bed materials as a growing medium for crops.

The research team, led by Professor Tony Ryan, is made up of experts in hydroponics: a technique in which plants are grown with their roots resting in a solution of water and essential nutrients instead of soil. The method uses 70-80% less water than planting straight into the soil and eliminates the need for pesticides.

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In the first trial of its kind, his researchers worked with a group of Syrian refugees at the Zaatari camp, which serves as a shelter to many who are already experienced farmers themselves.

They showed the study participants how to fill waste containers from around the camp with mattress foam and a carefully balanced nutrient solution. Seedlings were then planted straight into the foam so it could support the roots as the plant grew.

Working closely with the refugees, the team successfully created “desert gardens” that provide people in the camp with fresh herbs and vegetables, training opportunities, and longed-for greenery in a challenging desert.

Photo by University of Sheffield / Desert Gardens

“The refugees we have worked with have taken our training and made the project their own, growing things we never thought would be possible in the desert environment using recycled materials,” said Ryan.

“We are only at the start of what might be possible, in terms of what refugees and their situation has to teach us about all of our potential futures.”

Nearly 1,000 refugees have been taught how to manage the hydroponic system thus far—and the team believes it could benefit even more people around the world.

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The project gives people the tools and techniques they need to grow their own food and gain future employment as well as boosting mental health and greening the camp.

In turn, the scientists have learned from the refugees whose use of the foam in real-world conditions has demonstrated its potential to grow crops more sustainably—and in places with degraded soils.

Desert Garden Project Manager Dr. Moaed Al Meselmani said: “I’m a researcher and a Syrian refugee myself—and now I’m helping others like me to learn new skills and feed their families with fresh herbs and vegetables in the desert.

Photo by University of Sheffield / Desert Gardens

“When you’re forced to flee your home, it’s the simple things you miss—like a cup of fresh mint tea or showing your children how to plant a seed. This project connects people with home and gives them hope for the future.”

The Sheffield researchers now hope to raise £250,000 with their Desert Garden appeal to make the project sustainable. The money will be used to supply seeds, nutrients, and training for another 3,000 refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which runs Zaatari camp, provides Syrian refugees with enough money to buy staples like bread and chickpeas. Nutritious fruit and vegetables, however, are often out of reach—and traditional fresh mint tea is considered a luxury.

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Professor Ryan, director of the university’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, said: “UNHCR see this as something that can work in nearly every refugee camp to improve mental health and well-being.

“If we can make desert gardens economically and culturally sustainable in Jordan, we can ultimately roll this out around the world and help millions of refugees to thrive.”

Professor Duncan Cameron, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at Sheffield, said: “It’s astonishing what happens to the collective human imagination when it meets and is ignited by urgent reality.

WATCH: Man Succeeds Where Government Fails: He Planted a Forest in the Middle of a Cold Desert

“Our research on synthetic soils meant we could re-imagine the UNHCR’s waste disposal problem—where aid workers saw used mattresses, we saw an alternative growth substrate.

“This project is about co-creation, not ‘smart ideas’ parachuted in. As scientists, we’ve learned an enormous amount from the refugees about how our research can be applied in the real world, and they’ve gained valuable skills for the future.”

(WATCH the University of Sheffield video below)

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German Supermarket Saves Over 2,000 Tons of Food By Reselling Items Other Stores Won’t

A Berlin supermarket is tackling the challenge of reducing food waste by reselling all of the unattractive products that other grocery stores refuse to carry.

Sirplus Rettermarkt in Berlin Steglitz. Photo by Sirplus.

The SirPlus grocery store stocks their shelves with foodstuffs and produce that is expired, near to expired, misshapen, or just a bit odd, and offers it to shoppers for up to 80% less than the regular supermarket prices.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown out or wasted every year across the world. This amounts to one third of all food produced worldwide, at the same time as trash landfills are filling rapidly.

The majority of the global waste comes from Europe and North America, with the average European wasting 210 to 254 pounds (95 to 115 kilograms) of food every year.

RELATED: Instead of Dumping Rejected Food Shipments into Landfills, Truckers Are Donating Them to Local Charities

Some of the food rejected by other supermarkets, restaurants, or wholesalers—which SirPlus quality assurance specialist Timo Schmitt and his team inspect every day—is discarded because of something as little as a cucumber that has grown at a 90-degree angle, or a jar of jam that is mislabeled.

Others, like items past their expiry date, are carefully inspected to ensure that it is safe to eat. “We check smell, taste, consistency and packaging,” Schmitt told Klaus Sieg, a Hamburg journalist. “If in doubt, we call in a laboratory.”

As long as food has been deemed safe to eat and the customer understands the risks inherent in what they are purchasing, expired biscuits or even castaway yogurt and meat is legal to sell under German law.

Sirplus founders Martin Scott and Raphael Fellmer.

“Suppliers such as farmers, […] wholesalers [and] retailers have a strong economic incentive to partner with us,” explain the founders of SirPlus in an interview in 2017. “When buying or trading their surplus via our marketplace […] we’re saving them significant disposal costs, while providing a new revenue source”.

France passed a law four years ago that supermarkets must not throw away food that has reached its sell-by date. This could mean donating to food banks, composting it, or recycling it for use in pet food or biofuel—but all of the above require larger operational expenses than simply selling it.

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Fellmer and Schott allow producers and distributors to save storage and disposal costs by selling or donating their food to SirPlus, which if their own storage space can’t accommodate, will be offered for free to NGOs.

In 2019, SirPlus saved 2000 tons of food (4.4 million pounds). The company also has bold plans for 2020 and wants to continue opening stores in Berlin while expanding into other cities, to launch their own product line with the SirPlus label made specifically from food that’s been rescued, and create an online platform that allows for home grocery delivery—all to distribute the increasingly larger amounts of donated food coming SirPlus’ way, which includes one million croissants last year.

Sirplus produce.

They also have a subscription service called the “Retterbox” (Rescue Box) containing a random assortment of quality-controlled products that have been saved from the dumpster and delivered to your house on a monthly basis with free shipping throughout Germany.

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Guy Gives Up Christmas With Family So He Can Rally His Town to Feed 75 Stranded Travelers

Some bad weather turned into the “best Christmas Day ever” for one Canadian who chose to give up hours of holiday fun with his family to help 75 stranded strangers.

High winds diverted a WestJet airline on Dec. 25, a flight intended for St. John’s, Newfoundland that only made it as far as Deer Lake on the other side of the island province—roughly 400 miles (600 km) from its destination.

Local resident Brian Snow was friends with one of the passengers and realized that due to the national holiday, all the restaurants and shops in town were closed.

On top of that, the hotel where almost 80 people had been dropped off had no restaurant. Mr. Snow, who happens to be the community services coordinator for the Salvation Army, posted a call to action on social media: “Let’s show the true Christmas spirit.”

Within an hour, the Facebook post was shared 60 times and the community had spontaneously organized a delightful potluck in the hotel lobby. Residents brought sandwiches, platters of their own turkey dinner leftovers, freshly baked breads, and, of course, lots of cookies and desserts.

“I, as well as my entire family are beyond thankful for the beautiful souls who helped make a Christmas away from home just that much better!” wrote Kate Sexton from St. John’s, with gratitude that her aunt and uncle were being cared for.

With their bellies full and their spirits renewed, the kindness from the Deer Lake community didn’t end at the dinner table.

Dave Power, one of the stranded passengers who was flying with his wife to be with family in St. John’s, told CBC News, “When we finished eating, they said as soon as you’re ready, let us know, and we’ll take you to the airport.”

They organized a motorcade to get everyone back to the airport for their delayed flight.

“It was truly like a ‘Come from Away Christmas’,” said David’s brother Robert Power on Facebook. “That’s what the season is all about.”

Power was referring to the Tony Award-winning musical Come From Away, which tells a similar true story of the small Newfoundland town named Gander where nearly 6,600 passengers were welcomed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 grounded 38 planes there. The famous news story details the efforts of community members in Gander and surrounding towns who took care of the thousands of travelers in churches, schools, and community centers for several days.

The loving care displayed by Deer Lake residents left some passengers ”bawling.”

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