Let’s Go Farm To The Future!

Apples from Chili, tomatoes from Spain, or herbs from Thailand, all very delicious but not exactly fresh. We all know the feeling; you’re in the supermarket and want to buy something special for dinner. Not the usual boring pasta with Bolognese sauce that comes out of a can, but something nice and fresh. However, when living in an urban city, the ‘freshness’ of the fruits and vegetables in the ‘fresh’ section of a supermarket is questionable, and going to a farm outside of town is not really an option.

So what if, fruits, vegetables, herbs and even fish or meat were to be produced right in the middle of your urban city?

 

We are not there just yet, but the problem of overpopulation and the possibility of food crises in the future are well known. But no panic, scientists, farmers and engineers are looking for solutions to save the world from starving. The importance of urban agriculture is increasingly being recognized by international organizations like UN-Habitat and FAO (World Food and Agriculture Organization). However, to start gradually and small, local initiatives are being taken, here on our own Dutch grounds.

Paul Beckers, a Dutch biologist who studied at the University of Utrecht, partnered up with the community building organization ‘Walas’, to start an Urban Farming project. Their start up called Farm To Future is based in the formerly unused building Carbon6 located in Heerlen, a city in the South of the Netherlands. The city is the fourth largest municipality in the province of Limburg, and lies to the East of Maastricht.

The building has a minimum of 10.000m2 to offer, excluding the roof and wall surface, which in the long term might be used to build greenhouses on, says Paul. On the exterior wall surface, algae panels can be placed. These algae plants can be partially used in for example cosmetics, but will mainly be presented by Farm To Future as superfoods. The other function of the algae panels is to provide heat, as Paul explains, “a dark surface absorbs heat so as the panels get warm a heat exchanger generates heat to the large building”. 

For now, only 1000m2 to 1500m2 of the inside office space will be used, but can be tripled by ‘multi-layer farming’, which means that you pile up greenhouses to increase production efficiently.

Next to crops, Farm To Future will be producing kitchen herbs, strawberries and mushrooms, but also trout. Various sustainably produced foods can be offered to the direct environment of the ‘urban farm’, reducing the carbon footprint and contributing to the ecosystem. The Urban Farm wants to emphasize on its durability, by skipping the transport process, which is responsible for great quantities of CO2 emissions, and by “reusing as much as possible the various residues like heat, CO2, or organic wastes from the kitchen”, says Paul. This concept is also known as ‘cradle to cradle’.

Next to food security, Urban Farming also contributes to local economic development, poverty alleviation and to the greening of the city. Paul emphasizes on the fact that they do not only want to deliver sustainably produced fresh food, but they also seek to contribute to the development and growth of the city. The project aims to reconstruct and profitably reuse buildings that are currently not in use. While aiming to make better use of the vacant properties, and to create a new economic engine, Farm To Future inflicts new functions to the urban development of the city Heerlen.

Now, I hear you thinking, where can I get a taste of this urban farmed fresh food? As every other normal human being, I thought how about the financial aspect of this new concept? To this, Paul answered, “The concept is now being tested in Heerlen, but if that works out, you want to start getting profits from it of course”. So to promote the project, they are now cooperating with schools like the has Hogeschool, and Hotel Management School Maastricht who did market research which concluded that more than half of the entrepreneurs in a radius of 50km is interested in products from Farm To Future. So restaurants are happy that they will be able to promote having sustainably produced fresh food, as increasingly people are being introduced to and start demanding for more healthy food.

Walas is clearly driven by a great passion for people in their cities, they aim for a better and healthier lifestyle including both work and recreation. The Farm To Future project enables the city of Heerlen to grow into a more innovative and modern area, creating more opportunities for people to be creative and explore new aspects of life. The project is a great example for the future of the food production in the rest of the country.

But now the question is; will supermarkets of the future have their own farms located in a building right next to them?

-Beau Beckers

 

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