Author – Elena Essinger
In May, the 65 international students of the ESCP MSc in International Food & Beverage Management had once again the privilege of visiting a company and getting a look behind the scenes – this time at La Caverne, an innovative urban organic farm beneath the streets of Paris. Led by Jean-Noel Gertz, the founder and president of the company, our tour provided us with a fascinating insight into this unique project. Nestled in the northern part of the city, La Caverne has transformed the area underneath a sprawling, abandoned 10,000 m2 parking lot into a thriving hub of mushroom cultivation.
La Caverne’s journey began in 2017 when the team recognised the untapped potential of repurposing neglected urban areas. With two car parks in Paris and additional locations in Lyon and Bordeaux, La Caverne has grown to become a pioneering force in urban farming. Besides growing mushrooms, La Caverne rents out spaces in the facility to 50 other companies, mainly active in the F&B industry. Among other things, micro-greens and flowers are cultivated there.
Utilising a mere 1,200 m2 of space underground, they meticulously grow and harvest their mushrooms entirely by hand. One of the key focuses of La Caverne is the cultivation of shiitake mushrooms, which have rapidly become the second-largest market in the mushroom industry. Using specially designed straw cubes, the process begins with cutting and sterilising the straw before introducing the mushroom seeds. The incubation phase follows, during which the mushrooms break down the organic material in the straw. Astonishingly, mushrooms can double in size every 24 hours. In just a few days, they are ready for harvest, embodying the essence of the French saying, “grow like mushrooms.”
ICF LA SABLIERE / CYCLOPONICS
La Caverne also cultivates oyster mushrooms, employing a unique method using plastic bags to simulate the growth process, much like growing grapes. While oyster mushrooms have a lower price point in the market, they provide an excellent alternative for budget-conscious consumers.From a 10 kg straw cube, the farm obtains approximately 2.5 kg of mushrooms. Annually, they produce an impressive 15 tons of shiitake mushrooms and an equal amount of oyster mushrooms. The farm caters to a wide customer base, selling their organic produce to local organic shops and is part of the organic cooperative of Île-de-France. Moreover, the products are delivered by bicycle.In their quest to minimise waste, La Caverne ensures that old straw cubes are made available to local residents free of charge, encouraging composting at home. The remaining waste is sent for industrial composting and biogas production.
ICF LA SABLIERE / CYCLOPONICS
La Caverne stands as a shining example of urban farming’s potential, transforming abandoned spaces into thriving centres of sustainable agriculture. With its dedicated team, innovative methods, and commitment to both profitability and sustainability, La Caverne is redefining the future of farming in Paris. As they continue to grow, their impact on the local community and the mushroom industry at large is set to expand, inspiring others to reimagine the possibilities within urban environments.
This company visit was another great opportunity from ESCP Business School and the MSc in International Food and Beverage Management for us to get deep insights into exciting and progressive F&B projects and companies.