A lot of great innovations have been seen in indoor urban farming in the past few years. Most of them require not just a serious monetary investment to get rolling, they also use a lot of electricity for grow lights, heating, cooling and running various pieces of equipment. There are various ways to get around some of this, but these great ideas tend to be manual ah-ha discoveries, and not something that can be accurately controlled.
Don’t get me wrong – every piece of the puzzle that emerges is awesome in it’s own right. It’s putting it together in a fashion that is measurable and controllable that’s needed if we’re going to feed the world more sustainably and locally. The guys at Urban Stream in Vancouver have come up with an excellent solution that takes things we already know about, and used them to create something truly innovative.
Fish and farm in a box. They call it the “Zero-Mile Diet.”
No, the aquaponics setup in a shipping container isn’t a ground-breaking innovation. Nothing new about adding a greenhouse roof to your container hydro garden. Nor is combining vermiculture to the mix of agricultural procedures. Making compost on the spot, or generating heat in winter with vermiculture has also been done many times. So, like what’s the big deal?
Firstly, the tilapia here are fed – not fish food or alfalfa pellets – but worms. Maybe other people are already doing this, but this is the first time I’ve seen it done. Growing the fish food on the fish farm makes a lot more sense than buying it, and fish love worms. Even people who don’t fish for fun and food know that. In their natural habitat fish don’t dine on alfalfa pellets. It seems like fillets from fish that eat fresh food, as opposed to processed stuff, would be better. Kind of like grass-fed beef, or fresh green beans being higher in vitamins and flavor than the canned version.
Secondly, Urban Stream supplies local chefs with fresh fruits, veggies, fish and fungi. On location. There’s been a lot of coverage about chefs who are growing herbs, lettuce and other menu ingredients behind the building, on the roof, or at the back of the parking lot. As the Vancouver chef in the video below says – a busy restaurant doesn’t leave him or his staff time to tend a garden. It’s a high pressure environment for more hours than the restaurant is open for customers. Urban Stream does the growing for this particular chef. They also harvest and place it in his food storage too, if I understood what he’s saying correctly. Still, it’s grown on location.
Nothing inside that shipping container looks like something totally new and innovative? The best part, you can’t see. It’s not part of the crowd funding campaign the video was made for. I’m sure they have their reasons for not mentioning it, but there is a patent pending on the system that supports this shipping container farm. They call it the ‘Urban Stream Heat and Nutrient Recovery(TM) (HNR) bioreactor’. It controls and modulates all kinds of important things.
For starters, a lot of the restaurant’s waste goes in as raw compost. The bioreactor partially composts it quickly, and moves it to the vermiculture area. The worms do their thing and multiply to create fish food, all while generating heat to keep that shipping container warm when heating is needed. While Vancouver is a zone 7/8 climate, and is one of the warmest places in Canada, vermicompost heats plain old poly-covered greenhouses in Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio where winters are very cold. But those urban farms simply have compost piles and worm bins. There is no way of regulating the heat output, or collecting the energy it creates.
Urban Stream’s bioreactor does that, and more. It cools the initial composting stage material before transporting it to the worms to protect them from being overheated. The design also allows for adding mushroom beds that are fed nutrients by the bioreactor system. This is just the brief description, you have to read the patent papers for more details. By the way, they’re using energy-conserving fluorescent grow lighting for winter.
To learn more about Urban Stream’s quest for crowd funding, visit their IndiGoGo page.
If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.