Dark and damp concrete corridors often lead to unexpected spaces. Somewhere in the 18th arrondissement of Paris an otherwise inconspicuous parking lot is host to such a place. It isn’t a Berghain-esque rave that you’ll find here but it is home to creatures that seem to prefer the shadows as well. La Caverne happens to be Paris’ only organic urban farm. I spoke to Jean-Noël over the phone, one of the founders of this agrifood- start-up, to learn more.
In the bowels of this social housing apartment complex, the fruit of the fungus sprout from rows of lego-like blocks created from organic material. And I am told a faint umami smell of toasted sesame fills the air. At La Caverne, you’ll find a variety of mushrooms, as well as chicory and mircro-sprouts. All of these crops mostly prefer to stay out of the sun, some even thrive in total obscurity. “Mushrooms would typically grow in the shade of a tree, so we do have a little light for them… and for us”.
The “us” consists of about 10 employees per site, some of which live in the apartments just above. As I understand it, these futuristic farmers zip through the site’s 1,200 square meters on electric scooters. A scene that likely wouldn’t surprise you in any other start-up office. However, Jean-Noël tells me their methods are traditional, simply implemented in surprising ways. “If there is any innovation, it’s in the design”, he adds. The farm aims to minimize their carbon footprint and have a sustainable practice, in a broad sense. Everything is done on site, from growing to conditioning to distributing locally. Deliveries are made by bicycle, to local co-ops, restauranters and farmers markets.
Growing Shiitake mushrooms in its own temperature-controlled section of the underground farm.