A team of visionaries presented 200 fish seeking sponsors at the 2012 Summer festival Malzwiese to inaugurate the ECF Containerfarm. My fish, Louis Harvey, will live with the others in an upcycled shipping container, swimming in waters cleaned naturally by plants in the greenhouse that rises over the container (photo below).
Aquaculture + Hydroponic = AquaponicIt all started with the Rostlaube, pictured above, a pilot project for an integrated fish and vegetable farm, by UrbanFarmers AG, Switzerland. The concept: plants need fertilizer and fish need clean water. In the natural environment, these species work together in a healthy mutual support system. Rostlaube delivered proof of concept: that natural cycle can be reduced to a minimum and replicated in a self-contained unit that could be relocated to where the source of food is needed.
The Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries stepped in with a bit of German engineering know-how: microbe-powered biological filters to convert the fish wastes into fertilizers that the plants need to grow in a hydroponic greenhouse.
A Tour of the Efficient City Farming ContainerfarmECF, which stands for Efficient City Farming, developed the Rostlaube into what is now the market-ready ECF Container Farm, available for delivery to hotels, restaurants, food co-ops, or any other parties interested in a turn-key urban farm that can be placed in a parking lot (elevated to provide shaded parking below if desired) or rooftop.
Project co-founder Nicolas Leschke kindly gave us a tour of the 20-foot operation. In spite of the chilling breezes cooling the summer fest visitors, the greenhouse warmth simultaneously promotes vegetable growth and keeps the fish comfortable in the container connected below.
A wide variety of plants grow on shelves around the perimeter of the greenhouse, and in a central row the older tomatoes climb 20 cm (ten inches) a week up the strings that guide their growth. Leschke lifts the covering to reveal a yellow-brown water circulating at the base of the plants. "Do the tomatoes taste like fish?," one visitor has asked Leschke. No more than produce fertilized with pig manure tastes like pork, he explains. Strangely, the produce of the efficient city farm cannot qualify for organic certification -- which requires that plants be grown in dirt!
The lower level, what used to be a shipping container, is outfitted in austere simplicity with a fish tank at the far end and two Astaf-Pro filter systems nearby. The unit recycles all of the water, with additions of water required only to make up for evaporation losses. Leschke explains the rope prohibiting the milling visitors from entering the fish farm part of the operation. The fish are raised without antibiotics, so it is important to minimize import of foreign microbes into the container.
World's Largest Rooftop Fish FarmECF has big plans for urban farming. And they plan to start at home, at the Malzfabrik, where their offices are based. The Malzfabrik, once a malt house of the Schultheiss brewery, now houses and inspires creative businesses and draws visitors to its lively festivals, historical tours of the malthouse, and nearby nightlife.
The grand architecture of the rejuvenated industrial zone will now enter a new phase of evolution. A recently completed study indicates that the rooftop of the Malzfabrik can serve as the world's largest rooftop aquaponic fish and vegetable farm. ECF plans a 7000 square meter (75,000 square feet) rooftop installation. While the record setting Brooklyn rooftop farm is larger, it grows only vegetables.
I will meet the fish I sponsored again at the end of the season, when the success of the urban container farm will be celebrated by all sponsors. The harvested fish will serve as the centerpiece of a grillfest, another milestone in the journey of exploration into sustainable urban spaces.