Earth Solutions's Blog

An Urban Farming Revolution

Written by Niall Fahy of

What if we were to grow food, demonstrate the principles of sustainability, and provide green education and employment in our own neighborhoods?

An Australian sustainability collective has come up with a novel approach to bringing ecological organic food production into our cities. Their design is fast, efficient, cheap, demountable, and scalable. Welcome to the urban farming revolution proposed by CERES.

Cities, in the normal scheme of things, suck inordinate amounts of resources from the surrounding countryside. They are massive energy sinks, guzzling power and food while producing tonnes of carbon dioxide and waste. Moreover, the city limits demarcate a perceived division between synthetic and natural — between the high speed sophistication of modern civilization and the relative placidity of agrarian life. We often tend to think that in our living arrangements one has to largely forsake one’s connection to either culture or nature.

Climate change and the approach of peak oil will demand localization of food and energy production. With this in mind, CERES (the Center for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies) — a community based model of sustainable society in the metropolis of Melbourne, Australia — plans to build a number of modular high-density organic farming hubs on disused pieces of land throughout the city.

These intensive urban mini-farms are designed to be highly productive, energy efficient, customizable, and cheap to build using shipping containers and plastic poly-tunnels. Incorporating aquaponic vegetable cultivation, fish farming, mushroom production, beehives, and a food processing and distribution service, the farms are designed within the permaculture ethos of mimicking nature’s flows. The waste of one process becomes fuel for the next, and each stage of the process yields a product.

Aquaponic farming means that water (rather than soil) is used as a medium in which to grow plants. In an urban setting, this solves the all-too-likely issue of soil contamination due to industrial pollution. In the CERES model the aquaponic system will be fertilized using water pumped from the fish farm beneath, which is rich in nutrients from their waste. The fish are fed vegetable scraps and worms grown in mushroom compost. Root systems of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, leafy greens, strawberries, sprouts, and herbs will in turn clean the water before it recirculates to the fish.

Biodigesters that can decontaminate organic waste and turn it into usable energy are another potential component of this rapid-turnover design, as are solar panels and a water harvesting system. The food distribution area — which will operate as a co-operative — could also function as a café, education center, and community social space. As no permanent structures are built, the need for planning permission is eliminated, making the hubs easier to implement and also more palatable to any property developers or government bodies that may end up being involved.

One of these farms can be set up within a week, and the first will be installed in Melbourne in early 2010. The project’s proponents want this to be the first of many, and are talking to the local Office of Housing and Schools, seeking pieces of land that will be available for as little as three years. And they can’t wait to see what people around the world will do with their idea. The hubs will be intended to inspire people all over the world to follow suit and refine the designs to fit their own local needs.

Given sufficient opportunity, the concept could provide a significant portion of the city’s food while providing education and employment for hundreds of urban farmers and installers. Through being empowered in this way, communities can become more self-sufficient, not to mention happier.

Central to the concept is that sustainability initiatives are located in a participatory social setting. At CERES this entails community arts and music festivals, an organic garden and market/food co-op, a plant nursery, a bicycle workshop, a café, community and school gardens, an energy park, weekly sweat lodges, and numerous experiential education programs.

The vision is that sustainability need not entail a return to antiquated ways of living, but can merely mean the incorporation of innovative technology into a respectfully treated environment. This sharing of their aspirations for urban farming is one way they hope to tap into the global community’s yearning for reconnection with the Earth, feed their neighbors, and help to make our cities places where nature is not absent.

Earth Solutions deeply resonates with this article and the spirit of this movement. We plan on expanding our current Village in a Box product line by adding biodigesters, spirulina ponds and other sustainable living tools. Our goal is to provide resources for people to lift their ideas into action and become more deeply integrated in the care of our planet and our communites.

Image by nicolas.boullosa, courtesy of Creative Commons license.


3 Responses to 'An Urban Farming Revolution'

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  1. Byron Cross said,

    Aquaponics is not the invention of CERES. The University of the Virgin Islands innovated this technology first. And the words has already spread – not from CERES – but from individuals around the world inspired by the work of a professor at UVI.

  2. Ceress Bottelsen said,

    Thank You!! Please send more information on the exact plans. This is what I am seeking to do in the desert in Arizona. Blessings…

    • Hi Ceress
      The plans posted were not our own. We are developing systems that integrate fish, worms, crawfish, duckweed and algae for growing edible plants organically, eliminating waste and off-site inputs. Stay tuned or send an email to to discuss your specific needs.

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