Understanding how to feed tomorrow’s cities with Agricool
By Mathilde B.
— Jan 24, 2019
Urban agriculture has a bright future ahead of it. This is evidenced by the last fundraising of Agricool.
This start-up founded in 2015 produces strawberries in containers. They raised 25 million euros in mid-December and plan to grow other fruits and vegetables within these same maritime containers in urban areas.
Guillaume Fourdinier and Gonzague Gru, the founders, are sons of farmers in the north of France. With their mini-high-tech farms, they want to solve the production problems inherent to metropolises like Paris. It’s about becoming positive food actors: making quality fruits and vegetables grown year-round, and without pesticides, accessible to a growing number of urban consumers.
“The average distance between the field and the plate is about 1,500 kilometers, for fruits and vegetables that often do not have much taste, are not necessarily healthy and are ecologically questionable.”
This seems obvious, all commodities to be transported are picked before maturity and processed to support the journey, they mature “in the truck” and lose 70% of the vitamins and nutrients that constitute them. In summary, the products we eat are more optimized for the journey than for the taste or nutritional qualities.
But, why strawberry first?
Because it is perhaps the most common and tasty fruit that comes immediately to the minds of young and old, but also because this fruit represents one of the most absurd quirks of world demand: today we can buy strawberries pretty much all year round. But if we follow the rhythm of the seasons, there should be only from May to August. In 2013, a study by the French NGO Générations futures revealed that out of 37 pesticides found on greenhouse-grown French and Spanish strawberries, 8 were endocrine disruptors.
Starting with the cultivation of strawberries in containers is therefore a way to prove that Agriculture can produce fruits that taste good.
“It took three years of research and development to understand strawberry: to know what it needs in terms of climate, moisture density in the air, light and nutrients”. With these “Cooltainers”, Agricool masters all the possible variables in the growth of strawberries, thanks to the aeroponic culture: tube walls to which the strawberry plants are attached, illuminated by low consumption LED columns. Schematically, this gives a closed circuit where the nutrient solution is sprayed inside vertical turns; the water is recovered, reprocessed and redistributed, saving 90% of the water compared to the field crop.
“We are recreating about four springs, which allows us to harvest all year round while respecting the strawberry cycle”. The major asset is therefore hyper-local since the fruits grow until maturity, sheltered from the climatic conditions and are in the immediate vicinity of the places of sale.
“Some people tell us that producing fruits and vegetables in containers is not natural. But what is natural? Technically, agriculture is simply never natural, because it is man’s intervention on nature. And in fact, the analyzes show that their strawberries have an average of 20% sugar and 30% more vitamin C than those of the supermarket. “The lands are worn out, the cultivation surfaces are decreasing, the number of individuals is increasing and the pressure of production with. Producing off the ground is therefore ultimately a gift for the Earth.
Many have smiled at the beginnings of the start-up which has today conquered business angels like Xavier Niel, Antoine Arnault, Danone Manifesto Ventures, and many others. The proof by A + B = a yield per square meter 60 times greater than the large retail, confirming the capacity of Agricool to deploy industrially. The R & D phase worked across the entire value chain, logistics and distribution, to find a model that works.
The containers can nest like Lego, on top of each other, creating real vertical urban farms, which will facilitate their implementation, besides several hundred installations are planned within three years. The goal with this fundraising is to build a network expanded to 5 containers currently in the capital to install in the towns of the small crown to surround Paris, always in the context of food autonomy for megacities.
Agricool exhibition to better understand how to feed tomorrow.
Urban agriculture: a dream come true – from January 9 to March 31, 2019.
The three places of the exhibition:
- Bercy – 54 rue Paul Belmondo – 75012 Paris
- Station F – 26 rue Louise Weiss – 75012 Paris
- Asnières – 15 rue Paul Bert – 92600 Asnieres-sur-Seine