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Germany: Reclaiming vacant spaces with local food projects and aquaponics

“With our Bushof project, the aim is to enhance a rundown underground passage by constructing a vertical farming aquaponic system. This project demonstrates how urban vacancies can be effectively used for urban farming, while working together with the local community to spread awareness about innovative urban agriculture,” says Elias Ostertag, co-founder of Aachen.eden.

Aachen Eden is a non-profit organization located in Aachen, Germany and was founded in February 2021. The organization originated from a student initiative called “Enactus” and has since grown into a diverse team of students, engineers and researchers. Aachen.eden aims to find innovative and sustainable solutions to the global food crisis by improving access to urban agriculture and engaging the community through environmental education.

Design of a vacant building made useful for farming

As mentioned above, Aachen.eden is currently undertaking its Bushof project which aims to transform an unused underground passage in the heart of Aachen into an aquaponic farm. The passage has an area of 800 square meters, where Aachen.eden plans to install its scalable prototype and engage the community through hands-on workshops.

“In our aquaponic system, we currently produce microgreens and will do the same at the Bushof location as well. Aside from being packed with nutrients, they have a short growing cycle and are ideal for adapting to consumers’ needs, testing multiple varieties and optimizing the aquaponic system,” says Elias.

Vacant building turned into an aquaponic farm

Environmentally friendly, scalable and clean design
Aachen.eden’s aquaponic system is built with environmentally sustainable materials, such as recycled wooden pallets for the shelves and fish tank frame. Also, anything that touches water is made of food-safe materials to ensure optimal water quality for the fish and plants in the system. Water is cleaned using a mechanical and biological filter, after which the water is pumped from the aquaponic system to the shelves before returning to the fish tanks.

“The waste produced by the fish is efficiently converted into valuable nitrate, which the plants then absorb through their roots,. This cleans the water for the fish while providing nutrients to the plants,” explains Elias. “Through this closed water cycle, we drastically minimize water and fertilizer usage. Additionally, the fast-growing cycles of microgreens and the value of this high-quality product can offset the electricity usage by the LED lighting.”

According to Elias, aquaponics holds great potential for the city of Aachen because it provides insight into how sustainable agriculture will look in the future. Aachen.eden’s scalable design makes it well adapted to fit a variety of urban spaces, especially as the vacancy rate in Aachen and other cities continues to climb. Through aquaponics and with Aachen.eden’s systems, cities can begin to reclaim those spaces while improving food security.

For more information:
Elias Ostertag, Co-Founder