Monocle and Lombard Odier - Food and the City III
What’s the key to unlocking eco-friendly food production and consumption? We examine the ambitious pioneers who aspire to meet the growing demands of a burgeoning population in their own unique way. Beginning in Taiwan’s S Café, we discover a new fabric comprised of leftover coffee ground; we then move to Berlin where Infarm has developed leading-edge technology to control vertical farms in the city centre; and we finish in Lisbon with the Muita Fruta app where locals and tourists can map, harvest and care for fruit trees and even make jam to help finance the project.
CASE STUDY 04 - S CAFÉ - TAIWAN
About 70 per cent of textiles used by outdoor and sportswear manufacturers worldwide is made in Taiwan. Taiwan’s 24 million island inhabitants get through 2.85 billion cups of coffee a year – 780,000 a day – which leaves behind tonnes of coffee ground. Textile industrialist Jason Chen, who founded fabric manufacturing firm Singtex in 1989, decided to make good use of this combination. In 2005, when Chen was having a coffee break after a hike, his wife called him a “stinky man” and suggested that he make use of the coffee grounds, known for their deodorising properties. This inspired Chen to turn coffee ground into fabric that’s sustainable and deodorising. “For making a cup of coffee, 99.8 per cent of coffee becomes ground,” says Chen, who collects more than 600kg of leftover coffee grounds from coffee chains and convenience shops a day to produce high-quality sportswear fabrics.
Chen invested more than €1.8m into his innovation until S Café was established in 2009 – and it became an instant success. S Café’s first client was Timberland in the UK, which applied the new material to its shoes, jackets and polo shirts as it’s UV resistant and three times better at absorbing odour than its cotton counterparts. Now more than 110 brands buy S Café, the fabric that makes up 35 per cent of Chen’s businesses. Singtex works with local fabric mills and its own dyeing factory, which cut 50 per cent of carbon emissions from production. Chen has also extended his environmental values to his team: they now help farmers with their harvests and take part in conserving one of Taiwan’s largest wetlands.
CASE STUDY 05 - INFARM - BERLIN
“I used to live on the Canary Islands, where I grew my own food,” says Erez Galonska, CEO and co-founder of Infarm. “After a year of doing this I realised that I wanted to share the experience with others.” Infarm builds smart modular farms to address the growing demand for local and transparent urban-food production. Together with his partner Osnat Michaeli and his brother Guy, Erez has been patenting farming technologies designed to help cities become self-sufficient. “My brother and I call ourselves self-educated farmers,” says Erez, who had no professional background in agriculture before launching Infarm in Berlin four years ago. “We chose Berlin because there’s a big urban-farming movement here,” he adds, suggesting that their goal is to help Germany’s capital become more sustainable. “In terms of herbs and leafy greens, Berlin can become self-sufficient over the course of the next eight years.” Infarm’s pioneering technology combines hydroponics with cuttingedge technology designed to control the conditions of the vertical farm via algorithms and LED lights, controlled by centralised computers. “Our experts can collect data and optimise climate conditions, nutrients, fertilisers and other elements that affect plant growth,” says Erez.
“Our farms have become really smart: they notify us when they’re ready to be harvested.” According to a study by the Leibniz-Institute, Infarm’s produce is even healthier than what’s currently stocked on supermarket shelves thanks to its advanced technology. The beauty of the modular system is that it can be deployed anywhere, whether in train stations, schools, restaurants or shops. This gives clients the ability to produce food right where it’s consumed. Following its successful collaboration with Metro Group, Infarm has just introduced its in-store farms across multiple branches of German supermarket giant Edeka. “We will install our fully transparent farms inside the Edeka shops to create a unique in-store experience and share the magic of growing with its consumers, making Berlin the first city to adopt urban farming on such a scale,” says Michaeli. “By growing directly where people buy their food we are able to cut out the lengthy supply chain and improve not only the quality but also the environmental footprint of our produce, leading towards a more sustainable and healthy future.”
Q&A - BJORN LOW - ENTREPRENEUR - SINGAPORE
Less than 1 per cent of Singapore’s land mass is used for agriculture. But Bjorn Low, who co-founded urban-farming social enterprise Edible Garden City in 2012, is changing this. He’s helped restaurants such as The Tippling Club and Salted and Hung build gardens to grow their own food and has since encouraged many more to do the same on converted rooftops and pavements. His latest venture is Citizen Farm. It’s an 8,000 sq m facility cultivating vegetables, mushrooms, fish, chickens and insects that help with waste management in the heart of the residential neighbourhood of Queenstown in Singapore. Its goal is to encourage the nation’s next generation of farmers.
Is there an urban-farming culture sprouting up in Singapore?
We are way behind New York with Brooklyn Grange, Gotham Greens and Aerofarms that recently raised nearly €18m of funding to develop vertical farming. When we started five years ago, urban farming was unheard of; there was only us and Comcrop. Even now the entry barrier is high due to landaccessibility challenges, capital requirements and skilled-labour shortages.
How did you sow a love of farming in citizens living in the dense and space-starved nation?
The biggest challenge was to correct people’s misconception of farming. Many property developers were averse to farms as they thought it meant bad smells, untidiness and empty land after a harvest. It was hard to convince property owners to open up spaces to us. After a few key projects for clients such as Marina Bay Sands and Fairmont Hotel we found a more diverse revenue stream that spans from the building and maintenance of edible gardens, the retail of organic gardening products and workshops. We developed and tested edible-garden concepts for hotels, schools and restaurants where we were able to create a permanent foodscape that is both good to look at and productive – it’s a fine balance.
What are your next steps?
Within the next 10 years we hope to lower the barriers to urban farming by using Citizen Farm as an incubator for new urban-farming businesses, to encourage more people to pick up urban farming as a business or job. We hope that this model can be scaled for more under-utilised spaces such as the viaducts, more rooftops and other institutions and plan to tighten the operational model to license it as a plug-and-play model.
CASE STUDY 06 - MUITA FRUTA - LISBON
Be it oranges, loquats, persimmons or figs, behind its garden walls Lisbon is peppered with fruit trees (22 different species to be exact). Yet before journalist-cumphotographer Adriana Freire launched Muita Fruta, hardly anybody was taking a bite. “We couldn’t look at our neighbours’ backyards and see such fruit waste without doing anything,” says Freire. That’s why she began mapping the trees across the city in 2016. Her passion project has led to an app that lets anyone who spots a fruit tree on the street map it for people to harvest – as long as they’re up to the challenge. Those who can’t harvest are invited to help make jam, which is then sold to finance the project’s activities. Many of the trees mapped are wild and in need of a good watering or pruning; others are well preened and stand proud in Lisbon’s most public squares and boulevards.
“The Ethnology Museum in Belém is surrounded by orange trees,” says Freire. “Until now no one had dared pick them because they are bitter. But that is exactly what is needed for a great marmalade.” Events and talks are also on the agenda, as is potential expansion further afield to the city of Caldas da Rainha further north. “The rediscovery of the wild flora is important for inhabitants’ approach to nature and natural cycles,” says Freire. “If it was up to us Lisbon would already be an orchard.”
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