UrbanFarmers: Sustainable Food Production on City Rooftops at Scale
What is the problem?
The world’s population keeps growing. Today, the majority of people live in cities but the majority of food is produced outside of them. This increases pressure on agricultural land, freshwater, and oceans, as food often travels thousands of kilometers before reaching the consumer while generating thousands of tons of unnecessary CO2 emissions the process. Overall food production is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases.
What is the solution?
Large-scale production of high-quality sustainable food directly in cities. UrbanFarmers (UF) provides solutions to develop and finance commercial food production systems in urban areas, know-how to operate and maintain highly efficient large-scale farm systems, and ultra-fresh ultra-local quality produce and fish.
What’s the story?
Roman Gaus, a trained marketing expert, learned about urban farming while living in the US. Upon returning home to Zurich in 2011, he attended Startup Weekend at Impact Hub Zurich and met aquaponic scientist Andreas Graber, future UF co-founder. Shortly after, they applied for the first Impact Hub Fellowship program organized by Impact Hub Zurich and WWF Switzerland.
UF was named one of several impressive finalists (alongside ElectricFeel and X-Runner Ventures) and went on to win one year of incubation support, a stipend of 35,000 Swiss Francs as well as coaching and membership at Impact Hub Zurich. Within a year, Roman and Andreas had founded the company and developed the first container-based aquaponic farm to grow vegetables and fresh fish in a close-loop water system within the city.
What are the results so far?
- UF built the first commercial aquaponic-based farm in Basel supplying to Migros, Switzerland’s largest retailer,
- started 20+ new projects on the European continent valued at €25 million,
- opened the largest urban farm ever built in Europe (producing 70 tons of fish and vegetables annually) in The Hague,
- and is currently in the process of expanding to North and South America.
Thousands of customers can now buy vegetables and fish that are grown only a few hundred meters away, significantly cutting down on both food transportation and water usage in agriculture.
What role did WWF and Impact Hub play?
With the assistance of Impact Hub Zurich and WWF, Urban Farmers closed a multi-million Swiss Franc funding round from private investors for scaling aquaponic-based rooftop farms internationally.
In Roman’s words, “Without the Impact Hub Fellowship program, there would not have been Urban Farmers. Period.”