Written by Niall Fahy of RealitySandwich.com
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.
I have two close friends moving abroad to third world countries with the goal of providing their services on a volunteer basis. Regardless of where they end up there will be communities in need of food production enhancements, water harvesting and other systems for sustainability. I am asking for your input to help figure out a way to make it possible for Earth Solutions to support their mission, by facilitating the use of aquaponics in their communities. Just tonight I was contemplating how to make all this happen, when I received the email below and decided to start moving this mountain by putting my thoughts into words.
As I write this first blog, I realize that my best resources are among my closest people and those who share this passion. So what I am doing is crowdsourcing you, my friends, family and all to help me determine a means to make this project happen.
Coincidentally, or not, the email below, forced me to put this task into words.
With your help in the way of providing ideas and resources I hope to make it possible for Earth Solutions to leverage our collective wisdom to meet their needs. Please read the below from Eric, who lives on a Native American reservation in Wisconsin. If you know of any resources to help us develop a strategy and mechanism to make this possible, please share your ideas in a reply post.
As a token of our appreciation, for those who provide actionable resources to accommodate these efforts we will give to you or the school of your choice a Farm in a Box aquaponic ecosystem.
Dear Earth Solutions
I am an Alternative Education teacher on an Indian reservation in Wisconsin. We have 40% unemployment here. (fish farms) Looking for solutions for a better life or a means to produce employment and income for the (Students)tribe.
It is very timely that you mentioned this. I am trying to develop a plan to build a sustainable business model which affords my company the opportunity to provide aquaponic training and essential materials for communities in need just as you describe. Aquaponic systems are relatively easy to build but requires, training, time and energy on both of our sides. In order to be of service to you it will be my task to find out how can Earth Solutions can create funding to support such an endeavor. For your climate we will need greenhouses, heating (passive and active solar), building materials, hose, pumps and miscellaneous components plus working hands. Once things get rolling then a closed loop aquaponic growing method will create commerce, food security and pride through self sufficiency,
Let me study what available resources can help make this happen. Lets stay in touch.
David Epstein, D.O.