• • • Harvesting ‘Red Gold’ on the rooftops of Paris
Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, used to be widely grown in France but more or less died out with the arrival of mechanised farming methods. Now four French sisters are spurring on a saffron revival, growing it on rooftops in Paris where it seems to be very much at home.
One hundred fifty tonnes of certified saffron are grown worldwide, most of it in Iran. They’re harvesting it now, in the fields of Khorasan and Fars in the northeast of the country.
Here in the French capital, they’re harvesting saffron too, but in a concrete jungle, on five rooftops in and around the city.
No matter where you are in the world, it’s painstaking work: from planting the bulbs to picking the flowers, separating out the three crimson stigma, drying and packaging, everything is done by hand. And the harvest season is short, lasting just three to four weeks in October.
“You need 150 flowers to make one gram of saffron,” says Améla du Bessey, the brains behind rooftop-grown saffron. “This year we planted 60,000 bulbs, manually, one by one, with people from Paris. It’s like magic. When you put people’s hands in the soil everyone’s stress goes away and everyone starts talking. That’s the magic of urban farming.”