Growing sustainable food close to home

Tucked away inside an unassuming building right on the fringe of The Hague city, there is an aquaponic farm that produces 45 tonnes of fresh produce a year through its rooftop greenhouse, and 19 tonnes of fish a year through a fish farm right underneath the greenhouse. This is where urbanisation, sustainability and agriculture coexist, in an era where farmlands, cities and environment would normally tiptoe on delicate boundaries of a Venn diagram.

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Under “Fresh.Revolution” banner, UrbanFarm (also known as UF002) believes in ultra-local, ultra-fresh produce. Fresh produce supply chain normally runs for up to thousand of kilometres from farm to plate. Not only it is less sustainable with consumption of fuel and other resources, it also takes away the freshness from the produce as the clock ticks away and as the kilometres clock in. Therefore, the UrbanFarmers believe that the best food one can have is the food grown right where one lives.

When I visited UrbanFarm in August, De Schilde appeared to me as nothing more than a solid seven-storey block of brick and glass. Once a telecommunications factory for Phillips in 1950s, this building was disused until 2015 when UrbanFarmers AG commenced its project for UF002 on the seventh storey and rooftop.

Past the elevator doors on the seventh storey, one could easily be surprised by the welcoming sight of a cozy cafe and a colourful ensemble of fresh produce for sale. This is where UrbanFarm welcomes visitors for urban farm tours, grocery shopping, and even a treat of live music or yoga.

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Tilapias, separated by age and size, swims freely in 28 large tanks in the fish farm on the same floor. The baby tilapias are sourced from Eindhoven and reared here in UF002 The Hague in low density with automated feeding system to promote optimal and consistent fish living standard. True to the concept, the fish are reared without use of antibiotics, and large fish that are ready for harvest will be humanely killed using electrical stunning.

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In the greenhouse above, rows and rows of plants add an Instagram-worthy filter to the backdrop of the Hague skyline as one views inside out from the rooftop. Growing crops ranging from tomatoes to herbs, UF002 relies on zero pesticide to manage the rooftop farm. Instead, the farm practices biological approach in pest management and pollination.

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This type of farm demonstrates an aquaponic system.

To those new with the concept, aquaponics is a closed system that combines conventional aquaculture (fish tanks) with hydroponics (greenhouse plants) in a symbiotic environment. In the fish farm, a vat containing bacteria convert waste ammonia from fish excrement in the water into nitrates to fertilise the plants in the greenhouse up on the roof above. Meanwhile, the plants, which are grown without soil, purify the fish water to be reused back in the fish tanks below.

As an entomologist, one of my key interests during my visit was how UF002 utilises insects as allies for their sustainable farm. This is where Koppert Biological Systems comes in. Specialising in microorganisms, biostimulants and pheromones, Koppert provides agricultural solutions for farms like UF002 to protect its crops from aphids, thrips and whiteflies using natural enemies like parasitic wasps and predatory mites. Not only that, bumble bees are also used as pollinating agents. This strategy allows UF002 to align itself with its “Fresh.Revolution” cause while generating high-quality produce.

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At time of publication, UF002 delivers to about seven of The Hague’s reputable F&B establishments, aptly named UF Gastro Partners. While UF002 is open to walk-in customers, it steps up its mark as lifestyle influencer by organising DakMarkt (Roof Market), live bands and yoga sessions up in the rooftop through its Facebook page.

Urbanisation, sustainability and agriculture coexist.

When one looks in its entirety, UF002 has become part of the growing influence that merges urbanisation, sustainability and agriculture in a single address. From New York to Singapore, as urban population grows (and is expected to continue to grow) in existing cities around the world, we need urban farms like this more and more with each passing day. And we needed them yesterday.

 

UF002 is located in Televisiestraat 2, 2525KD, The Hague, The Netherlands.

© Jo-Lynn Teh-Weisenburger, Entomologist

 

Jo-Lynn Teh-Weisenburger is an entomologist based in the Hague, the Netherlands. While her specialisation is on tropical insects that affect public health and agriculture, Jo-Lynn’s passion is to help people understand insects. When she is not scrutinising European insects and books about European insects, Jo-Lynn enjoys exploring recipes, yoga moves and foreign cities. Find her on LinkedIn.

 

Reference:

  1. Urban Farm official website and Facebook page.
  2. Boztas, Senay. “Greenhouse in the sky: inside Europe’s biggest urban farm.” April 27, 2016. Accessed November 06, 2017 from The Guardian.
  3. Europe’s largest commercial rooftop farm project underway in The Hague. (2015, October 4). The Holland Times, p. 9. Retrieved from The Holland Times.
  4. Koppert Biological Systems official website.
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