Growing against the grain for a greener future

An interview with Roman Gaus, founder of UrbanFarmers AG, a company producing sustainable local food in urban environments using Aquaponic technology. Construction of the UrbanFarmer’s first commercial Aquaponic rooftop farm project is currently underway in Basel, Switzerland.

Who are you and what is your project?

My name is Roman Gaus and I am the founder of the UrbanFarmers AG, a company focused on sustainable local food production using Aquaponic technology.

Which problem does UrbanFarmers solve and how will it sustain itself?

In 2050, the world population is projected to reach more than 9bn people – with more than 50% of us living in cities at that time. UrbanFarmers is committed to helping solve the world’s impending Food Security challenge through the development of urban, decentralized farm systems in our cities. We aim to revolutionize the way food is grown in the 21st century – for the PEOPLE, the PLANET and not just for PROFIT.

The growing system is also self-sustaining. With aquaponics, fish and plants are grown in one integrated system, without soil. The plants provide a natural filter for the water that the fish live in, and waste from the fish serves as a food source for the plants. Aquaponics uses 90% less water than conventional agriculture, and requires no pesticides or antibiotics, making it 100% organic. UrbanFarmers is a sustainable solution because it creates a way produce food where it will be eaten, reducing the CO2 footprint from transport (food currently travels on average 2,000 kilometers before it reaches our store’s shelves), and food can be grown locally on a year-round basis.

Currently, we are completing our first Aquaponic rooftop farm project in Basel, Switzerland, which will produce enough food to feed a local community of 100 people year-round.

Why did you start UrbanFarmers?

I never thought that I would become a farmer. But when I started to think about the number of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics and fuel for transportation that are used in today in growing the food we eat, it did not seem like a solution that was good for the consumer, the farmer, or the environment. Also, looking at the future food requirement of our planet, taking into consideration population figures and future urbanization, I felt that the current farming system is not efficient or sustainable in producing the 100% increase in food we will soon require.

I was in the states for two years and I saw a lot of successful grassroots urban farming projects underway. And when I came back to Switzerland, I was surprised by the Swiss-engineered technology of Aquaponics. That made me feel determined to drive economic, social and ecological impact and bring sustainable urban agricultural practices into cities in the 21st century. So, with support from the University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Wädenswil, UrbanFarmers was born.

How has the HUB contributed to Urban Farmer’s development?

The HUB has been a great platform for starting-off my business idea two years ago. It was great to be awarded the first HUB Zurich WWF Fellowship at the end of 2010. The prize helped me financially to start-up my business, provided a space to work at the HUB, and to receive coaching from WWF Switzerland and Ashoka Switzerland. In all, this experience added a lot to validating Urban Farmer’s business strategy. I feel privileged and inspired to be among the HUB entrepreneurs, and this makes it a great co-working space.

How can others help you take Urban Farmer to the next level?

There are a number of ways to get involved with UrbanFarmers:

  • Become a member of the UrbanFarmers Cooperative
  • Buy a do-it-yourself kit Aquaponic for your rooftop/balcony
  • Lend us your roof. We are looking for potential sites to use as an Urban Farm
  • Invest in a GLOBE (Hedron)
  • Visit our pilot project in Basel

What’s your biggest learning you want to share with the world?

I am thankful for all my learning experiences, but overall my philosophy in life is that “every cloud has a silver lining”, and to appreciate that sometimes we don’t know why things are happening, but they are happening for a reason.

Interview by: Kate Karius, September 2012

Get an insight of UrbanFarmers via the following videos: URBANFARMERS celebrates “UUSFISCHETE” (german) & URBANFARMERS image film (english)