PARIS — Gardening gloves and wellington boots are the latest must-have accessories at BHV Marais, which on Tuesday inaugurated what it claims to be the largest urban farming space in France on the rooftop of its Rue de Rivoli flagship here.
The department store partnered with the Association Française de Culture Hors-Sol (AFCH) (or French Association of Soil-Less Culture, in English), on the project, described by Alexandre Liot, director of BHV Marais, as an “eco-conscious business model that contributes to the needs of the city of tomorrow.”
The fragrant initiative, which covers around 16,000 square feet and stretches from the inner courtyard of the site’s seventh floor, alongside the store’s popular rooftop terrace Le Perchoir, to the roof, boasts 360-degree views across Paris.
“We are writing a page of history, this is a first. In the next 20 or 30 years, there won’t be a city in the world that won’t have the majority of its roofs covered [with gardens or farms],” said AFCH’s director Yohan Hubert during a preview tour of the site, presented as a bona fide functioning urban farm. More than just a pretty garden, or green-washing marketing gesture, the farm will generate revenues through a range of produce due to be distributed locally by AFCH, he explained, with around 20,000 fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs due to burst into life over the coming weeks. The plants sit in pockets lined with wool, hemp and earth that are set in sheaths suspended on vertical barriers that line the roof. The soil-less cultivation system does not use any chemicals and recycles all its water use.
Produce will include gingerbread, nougat, herbal teas and honey, with the names of products still to be defined. Around 60,000 fresh flowers are expected to be harvested yearly and sold in the BHV Marais store. The farm’s hops will be used to produce some 6,000 liters of beer, working with a local microbrewery, that will be distributed locally. AFCH also plans to produce a gin using the farm’s aromatic plants that will be distilled and bottled locally, Hubert said.
The fruit, edible flowers and herbs grown on site will be distributed to chefs who are partners of the initiative, dubbed “Paris sous les fraises” (or ‘Paris under strawberries,’ in English).
Dubbed Le Jardin Perché, or The Hanging Garden in English, the project is part of a citywide initiative by BHV Marais’ parent Galeries Lafayette Group to promote urban farming. A smaller version featuring 150 varieties of plants opened on the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette flagship on Boulevard Haussmann in June 2015.
BHV Marais invested around 300,000 euros, or about $320,000 at current exchange, for the farm’s installation, but will not touch any profits as a way of giving back to the local community, according to Liot. “It is vital that the Galeries Lafayette Group, which has a strong presence in the city center, represents more than just an economic entity known for selling clothes and homeware. This is also a way of putting [dead space] to use in a way that can be educationally and environmentally beneficial to the city. I am always saying that, beyond a department store, we are a [part of the local community].”
The farm will open to the public in May, with visits to be held the first Saturday of the month. Customers will be able to sign up for free tours via the store’s web site, with the number of places limited due to security reasons. Cameras will also be installed so that footage of farm life can be projected in the store, Liot said. BHV Marais has partnered with local schools for educational visits, and with Airbnb, which will host regular breakfast sessions with tourists visiting the city for a fee of around $60.
The retailer over the coming weeks will host a series of events themed around environmental responsibility and sustainable development. Having signed both the Paris Climate Action and Objective 100 Hectares charters launched by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo in recent years, BHV Marais has implemented a number of initiatives geared to cleaning up its carbon footprint and energy consumption, Liot said, with among targets set the recycling of 85 percent of waste generated by the store by 2020.
BHV Marais as part of its recent rejuvenation and repositioning as a lifestyle destination under Liot has also created a well-being space for its employees that includes a terrace, reading room and gym classes. “It’s this kind of Google approach only coming from a company that is 160 years old,” he said.
BHV Marais operates four stores in France, with two located in separate malls in Lyon, and one based in the Parly 2 shopping center near Paris that is undergoing a 12 million euro, or $12.8 million, renovation.
The retailer also counts a store in Beirut, Lebanon, and last month opened a flagship in Dubaï’s City Walk mall in partnership with regional retail operator ADMIC.