Old PVC pipes and other discarded plastic building materials have long been the primary materials for the DIY crowd around the world. Yet virgin PVC is also a favourite among professional urban farmers.
In a green spot in Lyon, France, sits a greenhouse. It is not a typical greenhouse: inside are rows upon rows of shining, white PVC profiles, in which grow colourful flowers and fresh herbs. The greenhouse is operated by the company Refarmers, established in 2015 by Eric Dargent, a local sustainability activist. Dargent has dedicated his professional life to reinventing, further developing, and spreading the word about local and sustainable food production.
Research garden and demo project
Refarmers pursue their ambitious goals in two ways. First of all, they offer consulting services for making the most of growing crops locally. To this end, they have, among other things, established ’La Petite Ferme du Grand Lyon’ (the small farm in Greater Lyon), which is a combination of a research garden, a demonstration project, and urban agriculture. From this small farm, produce like herbs and lettuce is grown for local restaurants, of which one boasts a Michelin star. In addition, Refarmers facilitate Upstart University, an online platform that teaches future farmers how to get started with growing crops locally – in terms of both the actual food production and the business potential of urban agriculture. “It is our mission to help people get started in urban agriculture and enable them to make a living out of it – regardless where they live or how much space is at their disposal”, Eric Dargent explains.
PVC makes it grow
Food cannot be produced without the right tools. This is why Refarmers, as their other leg, runs the European agency for an American growing system that is vertical and scalable. The system is built up around UV-resistant PVC profiles combined with recycled PET bottles. It can be used practically anywhere – whether you want to grow crops vertically, establish a larger, local indoor food production, or grow produce on a roof in the very heart of the metropolis. In order to optimally exploit natural day light, the PVC profiles are shiny white. This allows them to reflect sunlight onto the plants that are not receiving sufficient sun, such as those placed behind the first row. This makes the system extremely space-saving and ideal for growing many crops in a smaller area.
Reinventing local food production
The Mission of ReFarmers is as clear as it is meaningful:”If one had to choose, who wouldn’t prefer to eat fresh, local, and sustainable food? Modern agriculture, however, is based on large scale and monocultural cultivation methods that are also very resource-intensive. Refarmers is about reinventing local food production and producing nutritious and fresh foods where people live. By utilising resources in the smartest way possible and eventually using only local and sustainable resources, such as recycled biowaste and renewable energy, we will transform the production of local food. An ambitious mission, which we are working hard to live up to – one step at a time”, explains Eric Dargent passionately.