PARIS – The sounds of gasoline-powered lawn mowers could soon be entirely replaced by the gentle bleating of hungry farm animals in the French capital. Last week, four sheep have taken up residence outside of the Paris Archives where they will spend the next few weeks trimming the grass. The project is an experiment for launching a more eco-friendly lawn care in Paris while also baiting locals to an often-ignored part of the city.
Paris boasts over 1,300 acres of green space in 480 parks and gardens of all sizes, many with rolling hills of green like the Buttes Chaumont or the Buttes-aux-Cailles. While mowing lawns has traditionally been left to machinery, the city is looking to natural solutions to cut down on pollution and costs. The Ferme de Paris, the city's farm located in the Bois de Vincennes, has proposed a new eco-friendly solution that will explore questions of biodiversity and more natural landscaping methods.
The Ouessant sheep, a formerly endangered breed from Brittany, has been chosen for its small size and hardiness. The four females at the Paris Archives will spend their days chomping away at the lawn until it’s sufficiently trimmed, making it the first project of its kind within the city's limits. They will go back to the farm for a while and return for another stint over the summer and again in the fall before the program is reassessed, according to the Archive's director Agnès Masson.
But Masson said that the sheep, for her, are a pretext to promote the Archives' activities. "I never expected this at all," she said on the day of the sheep's arrival from the Archives' lobby. Photographers coaxed the sheep to approach the camera as visiting children looked on at the odd sight.
Her original idea was to propose a community activity, like a beehive project or even a donkey for children to ride. She wanted to bring people to the Paris Archives, which offers a slew of conferences and concerts in addition to one third of the city's oldest and most important records. Its location in the 19th arrondissement, however, is a trek for most Parisians.
"We're a bit cornered out here," she said, "and to break out of this cul-de-sac, we needed something special." While looking for the bees and donkeys, Masson eventually received a photograph from the Ferme de Paris of four black sheep, and the ball began to roll.
The Archives owns 2,000 square meters of green space, and Masson saw the chance for an interesting, if not unconventional project. "In Paris, each green space becomes something important," she said, and with the Ferme de Paris guiding the way, Masson turned hers into a grazing pasture. With a low-voltage solar-powered electric fence and no additional food or maintenance costs, the project didn't require too much investment, but Masson did say that plenty of research was needed before she gave the whole project the green light.
With both the new tramway and park nearby, the neighborhood is changing, and Masson hopes that the Archives will help stimulate cultural awareness in an otherwise cultureless neighborhood devoid of museums or cultural centers.
The sheep will be a new highlight to the already active agenda at the Archives. Local school children who will come for educational programs will eventually name the anonymous sheep. While largely promotional and tangential to the Archives' fundamental mission, Masson says that overall the center needs to educate. Even the workers at the Archives, the animals' temporary caretakers, have completed a biodiversity training to educate them on the importance of the sheep. "We are showing how society has evolved," she said of the ecological underpinnings of the sheep-cum-landscapers.
While Masson hopes it draws people to the Archives, the project could also be a gateway into all sorts of alternative and sustainable forms of lawn care, including other breeds that could be put to work in Paris's other green spaces. Issues concerning safety, control and efficiency will be addressed as the Ferme de Paris observes the sheep over the next few months.
Photos: Bryan Pirolli