While agriculture were once very clearly distinguishable, new forms of high-tech driven urban agriculture are looking more and more like factories than the fields located in the hinterland. Despite many cities pushing urban agriculture as a new opportunity to resolve issues with food related logistics chains or to become more resilient, it is by no means a fait acompli. Quite the contrary, there are so many challenges that face small start-ups that it makes the future of urban agriculture look daunting. However BIGH is persisting and proving how urban and agriculture can be synonymous.
BIGH, the acronym for Brussels Integrated Green Houses, is a pioneering urban agriculture business, located on the roof of the retail section of the city’s abattoir. The business uses a closed loop system within the spirit of cradle to cradle and the circular economy that takes advantage of wasted heat and high nutrient water to feed fish, tomatoes and herbs. This business shows how the gap between classic agriculture and manufacturing has closed.
However, despite much rhetoric by politicians and urbanists of the fact that food production should be done closer to the place of consumption – for various sensible reasons – but in practice it is far harder to realise. Challenges are numerous. For example proving a market benefit for big supermarkets that need to move large volumes of produce, can be daunting when volumes are small and occasionally there are issues in the production line. Likewise the branding of cradle to cradle + circular economy is frustratingly lost when food regulation requires extensive amounts of plastic packaging. Finally, considering the amount of risk to address a regional ambition (Brussels wants to produce some 30% of its own fresh food by 2035*), there has been very little financial support.
Regardless, BIGH is proving how cities are places where sometimes foolish risks are made to address urban generated problems and in the process lead to innovative results.