by Callie

Aquaponics: Europe’s Largest Urban Farm

UF002 De Schilde with almost half an acre (19,000 sq.ft./1,900 m2) of urban farming space devoted to aquaponics and vegetable production celebrates the completion of construction a May 20th Grand Opening event onsite in The Hague. It’s the second major project for UrbanFarmers AG from Basel, Switzerland where UF001 has been producing top quality fish and fresh greens and vegetables since 2012. To some their progress over the past 4 years might seem slow, but they’ve been busy perfecting their technology while supplying a constant supply of locally grown food to a major supermarket in their city.

This is not the first of firsts for founders Roman Gaus and Andreas Graber. They’ve been working towards this and more for years. Commercial scale aquaponic rooftop farming has been their goal since the business launched in 2011.

Aquaponics Box Farming

UF Box: First Mobile Aquaponics Farm

Courtesy of City Labs

I think the team are the originators of the greenhouse-topped-shipping-container aquaponics farm too, though the idea of putting a greenhouse atop a cargo container came from someone in France, but it appears that the source didn’t use aquaponics. UF had an aquaponics setup running in Switzerland back in 2012, and sell the UF Box setup as a complete package today for showcasing and teaching. They themselves started their business with 2 of these mobile farms, introduce the idea of growing fresh fish and food in the city to the population by moving them around town. Even the grandest of plans have to start somewhere, and if you’re going to be successful at growing local food, developing a market using a low cost, small scale introduction you can take to where the crowd is first is a lot smarter than diving in feet first without possible prospects.

Though the growing space is limited to 645 sq.ft (60 m2) in the UF Box setup, it is cost-efficient and very productive, capable of growing 265 pounds (120 kg) of vegetables and 132 pounds (60 kg) of fish. Their portable aquaponics system drew interest worldwide, and became the inspiration that led to GrowUp Farms in London’s initial mobile box farm after Kate Hofman worked with the UrbanFarmers in Switzerland learning all about aquaponics and business from Gaus and Graber.

UF generated enough interest in the product that by 2012 they were ready to expand into a commercial system.

UF001 LokDepot

The site of the world’s first rooftop aquaponics farm, and the pilot for bigger things. Located in an industrial area not far from the center of Basel, construction of the 2800 sq.ft. (260 m2) greenhouse and aquaponic fish operation was completed in the fall of 2012. The team spent 2013 doing research and development in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Wädenswil fine tuning functionality, processes, and quality. They also established ensured delivery on a schedule to chefs around town. Every crop is monitored and managed through their UF Controller running custom-designed farm control software.

UF001- Basel Aquaponics Farming Rooftop Farm Pilot

Courtesy of PSFK

They were in full commercial production mode by January 2013 with harvests of 5 tons of vegetables and 1875 pounds (850kg) of fish a year. Their weekly baskets to restaurants in the area included both fish and veg, and soon they established weekly retail sales on weekends inside the local Migros store, Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain.

Into the Future

One might think that the launch of the recently completed UF002 De Schilde would keep the company busy for a while… not at all. The company infrastructure is in place for really big things. The Hague project is just one of the irons in the UrbanFarmers’ fire.

Plans are formulating in Benelux, Germany for another rooftop farm, and project managing director Marc Durno is already in place. He’s a conventional farm boy from Scotland who practiced law for a while, but traded his briefcase in to return to agriculture, but pursue a career in progressive farming methods. From things gleaned around the web it appears further info on the German project isn’t a long way off.

And they’re coming to America. We’ll actually they’ve already arrived. The subsidiary UrbanFarmers USA held a dinner event in New York City in March to present their $30 million project portfolio to a group of important food, real estate, and investment industry members. The US team is scouting appropriate locations to build not one, but 10 East Coast locations in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Don’t expect them to stop there – this is their “current” goal in the U.S.

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Only strangers knock on the door at Callie's house. People who know her don't bother if the sun is shining - they know to look in the garden.