New York City’s Edenworks Advances Urban Aquaponics with Custom Ecosystems

Edenworks Farmstacks are customized for the crop they support. (photo courtesy of Jason Green/Edenworks)

Edenworks Farmstacks are customized for the crop they support. (photo courtesy of Jason Green/Edenworks)

New York City resident Jason Green wanted good local produce available in his city on a year-round basis. Concluding that other New Yorkers wanted the same thing, he addressed this insufficiency with aquaponics.

Desiring a more intimate relationship with food, Green was already gardening in his apartment window box. But in order to grow local produce year-round in New York City, he knew that a new sort of infrastructure was needed.

So Green, along with co-founders Ben Silverman and Matt La Rosa, founded Edenworks, which utilizes vertically-terraced, closed loop, modular aquaponic ecosystems. Read more

5 Farms Pushing the Boundaries of Indoor Agriculture

Bright Farms Courtesy of Bright Farms

Bright Farms
Courtesy of Bright Farms

Indoor farms are the new and innovative way to grow greens. Modern indoor farms are quite large and filled with state-of-the-art technologies – they aren’t the tiny greenhouses of yesteryear.

We’ve rounded up five, indoor farms to give you a taste of what some of the most innovative growing organizations are producing.

1. Bright Farms 

Bright Farms has built its state-of-the-art farming facilities in seven cities. Bright Farms specializes in creating farms that conserve land and water. The Farms also are designed to “eliminate agricultural runoff” and to “reduce greenhouse gas emission from transportation.” Bright Farms has partnered with CropKing (specialists in controlled environment agriculture), Hort Americas (provides products to greenhouse growers), NetSuite (software company), and Nexus Greenhouse Systems (produces affordable greenhouse structures) to ensure it produces top-notch facilities Read more

Urban Farming Co Takes Aquaponic Farming to Europe’s Rooftops

Concept of future rooftop aquaponic farm in The Hague. Image courtesy of UrbanFarmers

Concept of future rooftop aquaponic farm in The Hague. Image courtesy of UrbanFarmers

UrbanFarmers is on a mission to bring commercial-grade urban farming to consumers hungry for fresh locally-grown produce, and it’s doing so from the rooftops.

Based in Zürich, Switzerland, the company offers a brand of rooftop-based and modular growing systems to client businesses. It does so using aquaponics, a technology that combines plants and aquatic life forms into a harmonious recirculating habitat.

“At present, UF operates the only commercial aquaponic food production system in the EU,” Urban Farmers’ Director of Business Development Tom Zöllner tells Seedstock. “Although there are numerous initiatives and projects in almost every city, almost all of them are socially driven community-based, small-scale projects. We are not aware of anyone else that has been able to implement a large-scale, high-tech aquaponic system that sells year round into a major retailer.” Read more

11 Urban Rooftop Farms Feeding America from Above

Lufa Farms rooftop greenhouse in Montreal is seen from overhead. Photo courtesy of Lufa Farms photo)

Lufa Farms rooftop greenhouse in Montreal as seen from above. Photo courtesy of Lufa Farms photo

As urban populations grow and the demand for local food rises, agricultural innovators see opportunity atop the roofs of city buildings. Much of this space is devoted to outdoor gardens, but rooftop greenhouses are also sprouting up in cities with cold climates.

Some are large structures used for commercial purposes, some are owned by restaurants, some assist in feeding the needy, and some are used for educational purposes. But all have one thing in common—they enable growers to grow food year-round in urban settings. Read more

Nashville Hydroponic Operation Grows from Small-Scale Project to Full-Time Business

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Orkin

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Orkin

When Jeffrey Orkin started the Urban Hydro Project, he knew he wanted to test the waters of hydroponic growing on a small scale, but didn’t know exactly what the end result would be—until now. Orkin has officially made the move from small-scale hydroponic experimenter to full-scale hydroponic entrepreneur with the creation of Greener Roots Farm.

Orkin started the Urban Hydro Project in a 135 square foot utility room on the roof of a condo in downtown Nashville. For Greener Roots Farm, he plans to scale up significantly.  Orkin is currently finishing the build-out on a hydroponic farm in a 6,000 square foot space. Read more

New York Nonprofit Builds On-site Greenhouses in City Schools

An inside shot of one of the Greenhouse Initiative Projects. Credit: Ari Burling

An inside shot of one of the Greenhouse Initiative Projects.
Credit: Ari Burling

NY Sun Works, a non-profit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools, partnered with a small group of parents at PS 333, The Manhattan School for Children, to found The Greenhouse Project Initiative in 2008.

“Through our Greenhouse Project Initiative, we use hydroponic farming technology to educate and teachers about the science of sustainability,” says Manuela Zamora, NY Sun Works director and director of education programs.

The Greenhouse Project was founded because parents and educators within New York City’s K-8 public school system were concerned about what they perceived to be shortcomings in the systems’ environmental science program. Read more

Montreal Hydroponic Farm Raises Rooftops With Produce

Lufa Farms’ second greenhouse is in Laval, Quebec, which opened August 2013. The greenhouse houses tomatoes and eggplants.

Lufa Farms’ second greenhouse, located in Laval, Quebec, opened August 2013. The greenhouse houses tomatoes and eggplants. Photo credit:
Lufa Farms

When room to farm in a city is scarce, look up.

Montreal-based Lufa Farms built Canada’s first commercial hydroponic urban rooftop greenhouse in 2011. In the late summer of 2013, Lufa opened a second, larger rooftop greenhouse in Laval, Quebec.

Although Lufa always intended to add another greenhouse to its operation once the 2011 site opened, the company wanted to observe how the first project did first, says Lauren Rathmell, greenhouse director and founding member.

“The goal was to have by the end of our first year of production 1,000 subscribers, which is about what our first site can support by itself,” she says. “The trajectory from there was to have a goal of having 3,500 subscribers by the end of 2013.”  Read more

Nashville Entrepreneur Experiments with Micro-scale Rooftop Hydroponics

Courtesy of Jeffrey Orkin

Courtesy of Jeffrey Orkin

On the roof of a condo in downtown Nashville, Urban Hydro Project founder Jeffrey Orkin is redefining the meaning of space-efficient urban agriculture.

Orkin has turned a former rooftop utility room into a 135-square foot hydroponic grow room where he raises various types of lettuce, basil, arugula, dill, kale, cilantro, mustard greens, and more. In December 2012, Orkin launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds he needed to build the grow room. Those who donated to the campaign were promised certain amounts of lettuce, basil, and arugula in return, and Orkin has been busy over the past year distributing these greens to his supporters. Orkin has also been busy selling his produce to residents of the condo unit he grows in, other community members, and local restaurants in the Nashville area. Read more

Rooftop Garden at McCormick Place Supplies Fresh Produce and Jobs to Chicago

Chicago Botanic Garden’s McCormick Place West Rooftop Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden’s McCormick Place West Rooftop Garden

As the largest “farm-to-fork” rooftop garden in the region, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s McCormick Place West Rooftop Garden has garnered quite a following in Chicago and across the Midwest since it was planted in late June. The gardening project was started to bring attention to local sustainable agriculture and to create jobs for people in the community.

SAVOR…Chicago, McCormick Place’s food service provider and funder, uses the fresh produce grown at McCormick Place for its restaurant and catering operations.

Read more

Singapore Strives to Promote Food Security in Face of Land Scarcity

The island city-state of Singapore is known as one of the most rapidly developing countries in the world. With 5.3 million people living on 275 square miles of land, Singapore is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. With so many people living on such a small island, there is little room for agricultural production. Singapore imports more than 90 percent of its food and relies heavily on the food production capabilities of neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, explained Jackson Ewing during a webinar on the unique challenges of food security in Singapore offered by the Global Innoversity. Ewing is a research fellow and coordinator of the Food Security Programme at the Center for Non-Traditional Security Studies in Singapore.

“This means that as regional food security goes, so goes the food security of Singapore,” he said. Southeast Asia is a major exporter of fruits, vegetables, and fish and is home to two of the largest rice exporters in the world, Thailand and Vietnam. With a lengthy growing season and ample rain, the region is quite fertile. However, increased land-use competition, shifting socio-economic trends, and a rapidly changing climate all contribute to a degree of food instability in the region.

Land-Use Competition

In recent decades, Southeast Asian countries have seen a major surge in growth of urban environments. Many rural residents have left their farming roots to strike out a new path in rapidly expanding urban areas. Thirty years ago, urban areas covered just over 20 percent of the region’s land. Today, about half of the land in Southeast Asia has become urbanized, Ewing said. While cities have grown, a dwindling number of farmers have been left behind to try to feed more people on less land.

At the same time, large multinational corporations have moved into the region and have introduced modern agricultural techniques including large-scale monoculture. In some areas, land previously used for agricultural production has been converted to commodity crops such as rubber and oil palm. While oil palm is used around the region as cooking oil, much of the area’s oil palm is exported for use as a biofuel and as an additive in cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, and processed food products. “These plantations are coming into direct competition with agriculture… and are creating a situation of greater land scarcity overall,” Ewing said.

Socio-Economic Shifts

In addition to changing the regional food production landscape, modern farming technologies have affected food distribution as well. Large farming operations with modern processing and refrigeration infrastructure have paved the way for a rapid explosion of supermarkets and as a result a general reduction in food prices. “In the urban zones of course, food price declines are lauded while in rural ones, they are lamented,” said Ewing. Most traditional farmers are not equipped to participate in that kind of marketplace. Many small farmers that once sold their produce at local wet markets now have difficulty keeping their wares fresh long enough to get to the supermarket; if they are able to get there they struggle to compete with the low prices offered by modern farms.

As food prices have declined and availability has increased with the arrival of supermarkets, urban residents has been able to greatly diversify their diets. “This is a real positive in some regards for nutrition and quality of life, but it also leads to greater demands on the physical spaces for producing things like butter, energy, and other high energy inputs that are necessary for producing meat,” Ewing said.

Environmental Pressures

Environmental stresses and the changing climate further complicate the region’s ability to produce enough food to go around. In many areas, dwindling availability of arable land has driven farmers to plant crops on sloped grounds that are particularly susceptible to topsoil erosion. Deforestation has resulted in changes the microclimates and expanded pockets of water scarcity.

Global climate change has affected not only the intensity of storm systems, but also the direction and pathways of devastating typhoons. “We are getting storms in areas of the Philippines and now southeast areas of Vietnam where traditional typhoons have never been an issue. These are large agriculture production zones on which Singapore and other food importers depend,” Ewing said. Gradual sea level rise combined with groundwater extraction, and river damming has increased soil salinity in major agricultural areas along the Mekong River and Red River deltas.

Investing in Regional Food Security

Singapore is not the only country relies on food exports from Southeast Asia. China and several countries in the Middle East have bought large tracts of land in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar to produce food for export back to the domestic markets in their home countries. Singapore has consciously avoided these tactics, instead opting to forge partnerships with regional nations, Ewing said. In these partnerships, a portion of the crops is exported to Singapore. In exchange, the Singaporean government helps to facilitate domestic distribution within the producing nations.

In Singapore, the government and local universities have recently begun to invest in food security research and new food production technologies. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore has initiated aquaculture research and development on several of the nation’s smaller uninhabited islands off the coast of the main island. Private entrepreneurs have begun to invest in urban vertical farming as a means of increasing domestic vegetable production. “I think it is possible for this area to become something of a thought leader and an area which could participate in producing technologies in the food science space and the urban agriculture space that could be exported in the future,” Ewing said.

While some hope to preserve traditional farming techniques, Ewing cautions against the assumption that small scale farming populations want a perpetuation of traditional lifestyles and subsistence farming. “The problem with that narrative is that if we discuss with farmers what they actually want, they would like higher incomes they would like higher production levels. They would like to see some of their children be able to go to universities or cities and leave the agrarian lifestyle,” he said. In the face of finite land resources, increasing demand, and changing climate, farmers will likely have to think creatively to see higher yields.

Ewing expects genetically modified (GM) food will likely play a role in the future regional agricultural landscape. While European and North American nations fiercely debate the pros and cons of GM foods such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® corn and soybeans, to many Singaporeans and Southeast Asians GM crops hold the potential to meet regional food demand in the face of increasing temperature and changing precipitation patterns. While Singaporeans place a high value on the quality of their food, so far there has been no significant push for organically produced food or traditional cultivars that have been seen in much of the Western world, Ewing said. “I think that the Singaporean consumer would be prepared to purchase GM foods on a large scale provided that they saw the quality as being high and the price low,” he added.

While in past decades Singapore has remained a passive player in the regional food system, it is clear that it will play an ever increasing role in the future evolution of the region’s agriculture.

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