"We sell farms, not tomatoes." So say the founders of a Switzerland-based company that specializes in urban farms. If you have an old industrial building with an empty rooftop, Urban Farmers will deliver everything you need to set up a fully functioning aquaponic farm in the middle of the city.
After experimenting with some smaller systems, the company’s latest product is a kit that supports a full-size commercial farm. The modular system includes greenhouses, retrofitted shipping containers that can be turned into everything from kitchens to office space, and a fire staircase that provides direct access to the roof.
Anyone with some flat roof space and an interest in growing food—grocery stores, restaurants, schools, neighborhood organizations without garden space on the ground—could use the kit if they don’t want to invest the time in building from scratch.
"I was interested in designing systems that could be applied anywhere," says Antonio Scarponi of Conceptual Devices, who worked with the company on the design of the rooftop system. "The modular system I have chosen can be adapted easily on top of nearly any type of industrial roof."
Like other aquaponics systems, the greenhouses are set up to cultivate both fish and plants; the fish fertilize the plants, and the plants help filter the water for the fish. In the end, the farms can save 90% of the water used in traditional farming, get better yields, and avoid using pesticide or herbicide.
In their first pilot, a 400-square meter farm on a roof in Basel, the company says they can grow five tons of vegetables in a year and produce nearly 1,800 pounds of fish. Because of the system’s efficiencies, and the fact that it avoids the cost of transportation, refrigeration, and most waste, the company says it can be as cheap, or cheaper, than buying food from a traditional farm.
"Urban agriculture, like any other type of agriculture must be cost effective," says Scarponi. "This project has been conceived as a strategy to activate unused spaces of the city and make it profitable from a social, ecological, and also economical point of view."