Proper selection of substrates and crops enhances the sustainability of Paris rooftop garden

Rooftop gardens are a promising way to supple- ment the growing demand for local food production, and are especially relevant in large cities with acute space constraints. However, they face the challenge of achieving viable food productivity while minimizing their impacts on the environ- ment, two priorities that often oppose one another. Also, the actual impacts of management practices, which are deemed environmentally friendly in principle, are rarely quantified. Therefore, evaluations that encompass all components of ur- ban gardens and a comprehensive range of environmental issues are necessary to reveal potential trade-offs and provide guidance in the design of these systems.
In this study, we evaluated the environmental and econom- ic impacts of rooftop gardening practices, focusing on crop and substrate selection, which are key parameters in system design but whose consequences have seldom been evaluated so far. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle costing (LCC) were used to analyze a case study in the center of Paris (France). The production systems considered involved crop rotations of tomato and lettuce each grown in three different substrate types: compost and wood chips; compost, wood chips, and earthworms; and conventional potting soil.
Despite the large environmental burdens of compost pro- duction, systems with compost performed better environmen- tally and economically than the system involving potting soil, specifically having 17–47% less greenhouse gas emissions per kg of product. Across systems, length of cultivation and yield appeared to be the most influential determinants of the environmental impacts. Within the compost systems, the most impactful component was the material used for garden infra- structure, and substrate production for the potting soil sys- tems. This is the first study that considers compost as a sub- strate, weighs its benefits and impacts, incorporates it into a complete garden, and compares it to potting soil. Our results demonstrate that careful system design could significantly abate environmental impacts. They provide critically needed information to people implementing urban rooftop agriculture and considering the trade-offs involved in each decision.

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