Green and purple plants growing in city

Is this the future of food farming?

— Harry Langdon 

Farms? In the city? You must be MAD.

As part of our regular WE Lab off sites, our latest expedition sent us in the direction of Stratford – the urban farm capital of London… Why, you ask? Because start-up GrowUp Urban Farms is the perfect example of how thinkinginside the box can pay dividends.

Founders Kate Hofman and Tom Webster have built an aquaponics farm in a box on a Stratford rooftop. Aquaponics is a sustainable and economic technique that can provide vegetation of global variety in an urban environment. But what actually is it? At its most basic level, it’s the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil) together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides organic food for the growing plants and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live. The perfect lifecycle.

The box itself is a shipping container harbouring – see what I did there – the carp, and the vertically growing vegetation (see the photo below). This water is filtered through vertical tubes containing plastic mesh acting as soil, in which the roots of the various plant species – including red basil, my particular favourite – are woven.

While not a profit generator, the box has allowed GrowUp to demonstrate the technology to potential investors. (The box itself was backed by a Kickstarter campaign.) And thanks to this investment raising, the team will be opening a full scale warehouse construction in Beckton at the end of this year. The produce from this warehouse will supply multiple independent restaurants and cafes across London, before they look to expand nationally.

All thanks to thinking inside the box.