The Urban Ecological System (UES) which produces barramundi and herbs simultaneously is making a big name for itself after signing a deal with supermarket giant Coles.
The urban farming method efficiently utilises valuable urban space by producing vegetables over top of aquaculture tanks growing barramundi. The UES transforms biological waste from the barramundi tanks into nutrients for the herbs above with zero waste and no toxic chemicals.
Andrew Bodlovich and Hogan Gleeson, inventors of the UES, appeared on ABC’s New Inventors program seven years ago. There have been several versions of the urban farming practice combined with aquaculture popping up all over the globe in recent years but theirs is perhaps the first to crack into the commercial market.
The UES provides a solution to the global threat of food insecurity. Food is largely grown further away from where it gets eaten and travels long distances to markets, resulting in a loss of freshness and high transport costs while also contributing to global carbon emissions.
The UES is far more productive and profitable than regular farming and is up to five times more intensive per hectare than traditional farming. The system produces protein below and vegetables on top, making better use of agricultural land.
The designers have signed a five-year contract with Coles which involves the UES supplying 129,000 plants each month and 20,000 kilograms of barramundi every year to the supermarket giant.
Coles general manager Greg Davis is thrilled to support such an innovative food producer.
“I believe this is the future of horticulture,” he said. “Projects like these provide opportunities to get fresh produce to our stores quicker. When customers tell us they want produce grown fresher, more sustainably, and in Australia, this ticks all those boxes.”
Dr. Nick Elliot of the CSIRO says the UES is a step in the right direction and is part of the global movement towards food security.
“We’ve got a growing global population and aquaculture is growing. People are a lot more health conscious,” he said. “But even with the best management strategies in wild harvest, there is a limit to what they can harvest, so to meet the demand we have to come up with new methods in aquaculture and double the production.”
Bodlovich hopes the technology will be implemented on the same scale around the world.
Earlier this year the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) set up 15 aquaponic urban farm units in Gaza City to help curb growing food insecurity in the area.
Chris Somerville, an FAO agronomist and urban agriculture consultant in Gaza says the aquaponic urban farms’ effectiveness with water use is one of the major reasons for implementation in Gaza.
“When you’re talking about aquaponic or hydroponic or any form of soil-less agriculture, you’re using less than 20 percent of the amount of water,” he says.
By using a re-circulating agricultural system to cultivate plants in water (hydroponics) and raise fish in tanks (aquaculture), aquaponics is a sustainable form of food production, especially in areas with few resources.
French designer Damien Chivialle created the Urban Farm Unit (UFU) in anticipation of population growth, particularly in cities.
The UFU is a self-regulating city farm unit made from an old shipping container and only takes as much space as a parking stall.
Chivialle’s unit is smaller than the UES, aiming to provide organic food for around 50 people in the surrounding community.
Three of Chivialle’s units currently operate in Zurich, Brussels and Berlin.
Regardless of size, urban food production combining aquaculture and hydroponics is proving to be an effective way of dealing with the need to feed increasing populations around the world.
Without consuming large areas of the landscape, the units are producing large quantities of food in a sustainable way.
Bodlovich and Gleeson’s UES may very well pave the way for further use of urban ecological systems in Australia rather than shipping food across the great expanse of the country.