Last updated August 20th 2015
Buying organic and locally grown produce is a raging trend that is here to stay. And a new project in Israel called “Green in the City” is taking the trend to a whole new level, literally.
‘Green in the City’ grows mostly organic vegetables in floating beds of water (without soil) on the rooftop of Dizengoff Center, Tel Aviv’s central mall complex. Started by Mendi Falk, the project aims to bring the farm to the city, and fresh produce onto urban dwellers’ plates.
Lettuce, basil, bok choy, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers are among the vegetables grown on Falk’s compact, 100-square-meter rooftop farm. And while just about anything can be grown on the farm, Falk concentrates mainly on leafy vegetables because they have the shortest life cycles.
Urban agriculture requires less water, no soil
The science behind this intriguing project is hydroponics, a type of gardening that grows plants using very little nutrient-rich water solutions and without any soil. There are different types of hydroponic systems, but they all essentially work by pumping just the right amount of nutrients and water directly to the plants’ roots. Unlike traditional agriculture, hydroponic gardening gives the grower control over the plants’ watering and feeding cycles, as well as over the strength and acidity of the nutrient solution that is given to the plants.
Falk’s farm also utilizes an aquaponics system: fish are grown in a tank that is connected to the plant growing beds, with water circulating between each other. The plants take in nutrients from the fish tank’s waste and clean the water that is pumped back into it.
The advantages are numerous: First and foremost, the plants grow faster and produce greater yields. These systems also take up less space, rule out the need for pesticides (since plant diseases and parasites are mostly soil-borne), and require less weeding. In addition, the rooftop garden needs less water as hydroponics uses 70 to 90 percent less water than conventional gardening.
“Harvested just 15 minutes before being served on the customer’s plate”
According to Falk, customers can taste the difference. “The taste is different not because the produce is growing in hydroponic systems, but because people are not used to eating fresh vegetables,” he tells NoCamels. “They’re used to eating vegetables that have been sitting in their refrigerator for days. Our vegetables are organic, pesticide-free, and truly fresh, because oftentimes they are harvested just 15 minutes before being served on the customer’s plate.”
Green in the City is a joint venture between Dizengoff Center and Falk’s company Living Green – which sells hydroponic and aquaponics systems to private consumers. “We believe that urban agriculture should be more spread throughout the city,” Falk says. “Since the farm is located on top of a popular space, people can easily come and see that the hydroponic method is not that complicated and they will be inspired to grow their own vegetables in their homes with hydroponic systems.”
A solution for world hunger?
The farm’s produce is currently sold to two restaurants in Dizengoff Center – Café Greg and Garden Restaurant – as well as to Dizengoff Center’s farmers market for about $1 per unit, as opposed to organic vegetables sold at local supermarkets, which on average cost $2.5 per kilo. Falk says that 100 square meters are not enough to run a financially sustainable farm, and plans to expand to a 500-square-meter space on the Center’s roof in the coming months.
His vision for hydroponic systems extends way beyond his own business interests. “I think this is a part of a bigger solution for world hunger,” Falk explains. “Of course, hydroponics will not replace traditional agriculture as the major source of food, but in countries where there is not enough fertile ground or enough water, hydroponics can provide a much needed solution.”