Today the skies were blue and the sun was out all day in Berlin!
In the morning I had the unique opportunity of visiting an urban aquaponics farm right in the city centre. This farm was founded by Christian and Nicholas, two young entrepreneurs who thought of starting to produce some vegetables as a hobby. They loved cooking, and living in the city does not really allow you to know where your own food is coming from. This is why they thought of aquaponics, as it gives you the possibility to produce greens and fish at the same time, within an indoor space.
They got a space in an incubation centre, brought in a shipping container, set up a greenhouse on top of it and installed fish tanks inside. That’s how it all started! The ECF “container farm” was up and running. It soon became the sensation of the city and people started asking for their produce.
Being proactive and ambitious fellows, Christian and Nicholas wrecked their brains on how they can scale it up. Since they did not have a technical background, they teamed up with a local University to see how they can run the system on a larger scale. The original small green garage evolved into a farming facility of 1.4 million Euros by February 2015. This would not have been possible without the intervention of investors and the EBB state bank. They also got a scholarship allowing them to have a monthly income to focus on their idea.
The project continued to receive attention at the Silicone Valley, where it won the best prize for the idea and also the audience prize. The enterprise was destined to expand further after that. An aquaponics rooftop centre of 1,200 meters squared, was set up close to the mountains in Switzerland, in 2014. Recently, the worlds’ biggest aquaponics farm was set up in Brussels, in 2018.
Their production system has also undergone changes. They adopted a two-loop aquaponic system to ensure that both the fish and the plants receive all the nutrients and care they need. Rather than producing the plants in water, they are now using compost to grow Basil plants, which are sold in pots to local supermarkets. The Tilapia are sold as whole fish as a regional local product.
At the moment their costs of production are a little higher since renting a space in the middle of the city is rather expensive, however, the fact that they are saving on transport costs for distribution is balancing things out.
The freshness of the product is the winning ticket of this enterprise. Their dream is to team up with supermarkets and make use of the dead space on their roofs. In my opinion, this is an excellent example of how things can work out to achieve a circular economy. Generating money is important, but so is the responsibility of creating ethical jobs and ploughing back resources into the region to maintain a healthy environment.