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Jack Henderson
June 28, 2016

The Future of Farming As We Know It

Since a couple of months our kitchen is working together with vegetable and fish supplier TopFarmers. We spoke with founder and CEO Klaus about their aquaponics farming method, where both aquaculture and hydroponics are collaborated to grow food in a resource efficient way. In simple terms, they grow plants and fish together in one greenhouse, sustainably. Their fish is on our menu at the moment so we spoke to Klaus to learn more about the future of farming as we know it.

Hey Klaus, Can you tell us how the whole process works?

It’s actually a lot more simple than it sounds. The starting point is Aquaponics: we have several huge tanks which we use to store the catfish and we use their excrement to feed the plants. This means that there is less resource input and no waste whatsoever. The whole process is done without using any pesticides or antibiotics for the fish, we don’t even have to clean the water as the plants and creatures take care of that.

At TopFarmers, we’ve taken Aquaponics that one step further by creating AquaTerraPonics. Which is different because it involves taking care of the soil too. We’ve done this by creating an active natural habitat, adding bugs and worms to the soil; this has brought us much closer to nature than other hydroponic farms.

You're producing fish - what else do you produce in Berlin?

We also produce a wide range of vegetables. I must admit because of the nutrients we get from the fish we cannot grow everything, things such as potatoes for example, we cannot grow. However that's ironic because our sweet potatoes are doing really well at the moment. Aside from that, we’re also growing tomatoes, eggplant, micro greens, spinach, herbs, chiles, and even bananas from time-to-time! Furthermore, we have a greenhouse laboratory where we conduct research. Throughout the year we try to grow different things, right now we’re trying water spinach. Being able to produce a wide range of vegetables is something we’re very proud of.

 

"We’re also growing tomatoes, eggplant, micro greens, spinach, herbs, chiles, and even bananas from time-to-time!"

 

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You currently only have one farm, what’s the next step?

We’ve just received funding to construct a 2500 square meter greenhouse in Berlin. When complete, it will be one of the biggest AquaTerraPonic farms in the Berlin area. We're aiming to produce around 50 tonnes of fish and 30 tonnes of vegetables, that seems a lot at first, but it’s actually only 0.05% of what Berliners eat.

In the long run, we’d like to run 10 greenhouses of this size simultaneously. The idea is to spread them out across the city to ensure that everyone is getting the freshest food possible. In addition, we want to be able to deliver our produce using cyclists, similar to Deliveroo however with fresh, organic food.

 

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We love having your food on our menu, are you in any other cafes or restaurants currently?

We’re super happy to be on betahaus' cafe menu, and to have a fantastic chef like Sven enjoying our fish! In terms of other restaurants, we’re in Candy on Bone in Kreuzberg and the Arminiusmarkthalle in Moabit. Actually, Candy on Bone are doing some really experimental things with our fish at the moment, they serve it raw with lemon and it tastes amazing. Whereas, those in Arminiusmarkthalle are doing the total opposite, they’re serving our catfish in the traditional style of British fish and chips, right now they’re selling more than we can deliver!

 

"Candy on Bone are doing some really experimental things with our fish at the moment, they serve it raw with lemon and it tastes amazing."

 

I read you have some Open Source DIY, can you tell us a little more about that?

At the moment we have a construction plan for schools so teachers can educate children about where their food can be produced in the future. I think it’s important to increase the awareness of the younger generation, even if you do start small. You could use goldfish for example and collect their waste to grow the plants, people must remember though that the fish are animals meaning that they will need fed regularly.

Rumour has it that you're currently looking for some rooftops. What do you plan to do with these rooftops specifically?

We love rooftops, hence the name ‘Top’ Farmers. Rooftops are a wasted space and with the right setup they can become extremely resource efficient. We can assist you with rooftop development in many different ways. We can design the whole thing, then hand it over to you, the customer. Or you can run it and we can provide ongoing support, or, you could finance the whole thing and we can run it. Either way we will continue to assist you throughout. You could even run it completely on your own and sell your produce through our distribution channels, we’re open to anything!

 

Topfarmers joint pic

If our readers are interested in learning about this, do you offer any workshops and if so, how do you sign up?

We don’t have a set framework so our workshops can be client specific. Normally, big corporates ask us to educate them about the environment and to show them how to be sustainable. It doesn’t have to be just corporates though, in the past we’ve ran them in schools too. Say we were to do one here in betahaus, we could demonstrate how to construct a tank and teach people how to use Aquaponics at home.

 

If you’d like to see TopFarmer's urban farm, they offer monthly tours where you can witness and experience how AquaTerraPonics works. 

Still wondering about becoming a betahaus member? Find more information here! 

Finally, You describe your target group as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), which is a very niche market. Can you tell us more about what type of people they ARE and what theY value? What's some advice you can share to other startups targeting this market?

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