Visionary Londoners prototype a new way for urban communities to localize the production of fresh, sustainable food.
The London-based organization Grow Up has built a project in a Southwark, London that produces sustainable vegetables and fish in a space as small as a single parking spot.
Housed in a reclaimed shipping container, the Grow Up Box is a two-tiered operation, growing Tilapia (an omnivorous white fish) on the lower level with a greenhouse on top for salad greens and herbs.
The small urban farm works thanks to aquaponics – a closed-loop farming method that combines hydroponics (growing plants in a water solution without using soil) and aquaculture (fish farming). The nutrient-rich waste water from the fish tanks fertilizes the plants which, in turn, purifies the water pumped back into the fish tank below.
Once set up, the only inputs into the system are vegetarian fish food and energy for the water and oxygen pumps. Feeding fish on a vegetarian protein diet is a desirable alternative to feeding farmed fish on unsustainable wild fish fry sources. Since water is fed directly to the plant roots and then recirculated to the fish tanks, the system uses considerably less water than traditional agricultural systems.
The Grow Up Box model is estimated to produce as much as 60 kilograms (more than 130 pounds) of fish and 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of salad each year. 60 kilograms of whole Tilapia is sufficient for 2-3 people to enjoy one fish per week for a year.
Currently growing in the Grow Up Box greenhouse are seedlings, microgreens, and Rocket, Lollo Rosso, and Lollo Bionda lettuces. As many as 400 salad and herb varieties can be grown at one time.
Hosted during the summer months by Bankside Open Spaces Trust, the demonstration project is currently situated in a playground not being used while school children are on summer vacation. The project is part of this year’s Chelsea Fringe festival and is open to the public on weekends to see how the technology works, as well as how the farmed results taste.
An exciting development in the arena of microfarming, the GrowUp Box inspires new ways for urban communities to localize the production of fresh, sustainable and healthy food, as well as combine farming, retail sales and/or restaurant production in hybrid and potentially transportable hub networks.
The project is designed and operated by farming entrepreneurs Kate Hofman and Tom Webster and is funded thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Click through the gallery to see more of the process, as well as envision what it might be like to grow fish and produce in the middle of an urban center: