Just when you think you’ve seen every shipping container-reuse project imaginable, along comes an urban farm with a difference. Kate Hofman and Tom Webster are planning what they call ‘London’s most innovative urban farm’ made from a greenhouse on top of a shipping container. So what’s so different about a greenhouse on a shipping container? (Yes, I did just ask that.) Well, whilst fresh leafy greens grow in the greenhouse, tanks of fish are living inside the shipping container, providing nutrients for the farm through their poo.
That’s right. This urban farm is embracing aquaponics, a food production system that combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water), and it’s both hygienic and sustainable. Kate and Tom are hoping to set the farm up in an empty car park in central London and are relying on their newly-launched Kickstarter campaign for things to go swimmingly (head to their Kickstarter for more fish and farming puns.)
I got the chance to put some questions to Kate and Tom about the project.
This Big City: Where did the idea for GrowUp come from?
Kate & Tom: We’re both really interested in the ways that cities need to adapt and become more sustainable and food is a huge part of that. Tom’s an ecologist by training (and at heart!) and got really interested in aquaponics as an urban farming solution. Kate started working with the guys at urbanfarmers.com and got hooked on the idea of developing a commercial model for growing food in London. We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend who knew that we were both passionate about urban farming and sustainable solutions for feeding cities, and we decided that the GrowUp Box was an innovative and engaging way to showcase aquaponic technology.
TBC: Is aquaponics a viable option for feeding millions of urban residents?
K&T: Aquaponics produces a valuable protein source as well as a high volume of leafy green salads and herbs. It’s the added value of the fish that makes it commercially viable to use urban space to grow food on a commercial scale. We don’t know if in the future cities will be able to feed themselves completely, but by starting to adapt urban space to farm using aquaponics we can make a real contribution to food security and local supply chains. As urban migration continues across the world we need to seriously rethink the way we feed people in cities.
TBC: Which cities have inspired you with their urban agriculture projects?
K&T: We think there are some great examples of rooftop hydroponic farms in North America (for example in New York and Montreal) and The Plant in Chicago is an incredible project to transform a whole building into a food production unit. And of course we’ve been very personally inspired by working with UrbanFarmers on their rooftop aquaponic farm in Basel, Switzerland.
TBC: Have you got plans to engage with Bermondsey residents whilst you’re running GrowUp?
K&T: Absolutely! One of the reasons we were so excited when 47/49 offered to host the GrowUp Box was because of their commitment to community engagement. They’re interested in ambitious creative/ community projects and have set up a Time Bank so that people can use their space by contributing their time and skills. We hope to get some of their volunteers working on helping us set the farm up, and also learning how to operate it. As a showcase system, we hope to use the GrowUp Box to educate local residents of all ages about where food comes from and how we can produce it more sustainably.
TBC: What’s your vision for GrowUp beyond the Kickstarter campaign?
K&T: The Kickstarter campaign is a great way for us to launch a demonstration of what aquaponics is all about. We want to get as many people as possible interested in urban aquaponics because our vision is to reach for skies and set up London’s first commercial aquaponic rooftop farm. Lots of people who live in London don’t want to grow their own food – but they do want to buy food that is locally and sustainably produced. That’s where GrowUp comes in.
TBC: ‘Transfarming’? ‘Lettuce in on a secret’? Any other fruit and veg puns up your sleeves?
K&T: We thought you’d never ask. Kate is so enthusiastic about aquaponics (and puns) that she’s had trouble leafing this one alone – it will probably romaine a mystery why she thinks other people will be amused by it all… Mind you, we have been carping on about fish and vegetables for so long now, we’ve really had time to mullet over.
Find out more about GrowUp in the video below. Click here to back the project on Kickstarter.