Just under two years ago I sat in a room in Zurich and listened to Roman Gaus of UrbanFarmers talk about this idea I’d never heard of before called aquaponics, and how you could take unused urban space like rooftops and grow fresh vegetables and fish for people living in cities. I was completely taken (hook, line and sinker if you’ll excuse the pun) with the idea.
I started to imagine setting-up commercial farms that were not only environmentally sustainable, but were also a viable use of high-value real-estate in cities. Then I was introduced to Tom Webster, whose background in ecology and sustainability and passion for food had also got him thinking about the best ways to maximize agricultural yields from urban spaces. This year, inspired by a new paradigm in food production and the progress that has been made across the world by organizations, including UrbanFarmers, I left my corporate job and we started a business called GrowUp.
The aim of GrowUp is to demonstrate that it’s possible, commercially viable, and preferable (both for people and for the planet) to grow food in cities for the people who live there. The GrowUp Box is our first project which we launched at the start of this month on Kickstarter. The Box is a shipping container with a greenhouse on top, through which we hope to showcase the aquaponic technology that we are using to grow food at a much larger scale. The box will house tilapia in two tanks in the containers and vertical growing columns in the greenhouse to maximize the amount of vegetables we can grow in a limited space.
As our first project in the UK, the GrowUp Box is as much a labor of love as it is a showcase for our business. Growing food is hard work, and not everyone who lives in London wants to grow their own food—but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t focus on educating people about where fresh food comes from and what it takes to produce it. We care about the food that we eat, and we think that everyone living in cities should have access to healthy, fresh and environmentally positive produce—even if they don’t want to grow it themselves. That’s the reason why we’re committed to making GrowUp a success.
We’re not just interested in urban farming as a fad—it should be an integral part of the food system. Urban populations will continue to grow and cities are coming under increasing pressures to manage their resources. We need to start thinking seriously about how our cities can adapt to face the challenges of the future, and we believe that commercial urban farming has to be on the agenda.
Is this a utopian clean-tech future for feeding people in cities? We don’t think so. We just need to GrowUp. Support our campaign on Kickstarter to get behind a more sustainable food future.
This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at good.is/food and on Twitter at #chewonit.