Urban farmers generation

By 2050, more than 70% of the world population will live in cities. How food is produced and supplied to urban dwellers is therefore a crucial part of the equation to develop sustainable models of human habitats in upcoming decades. Urban farming initiatives are booming in many countries around the globe, and a whole generation of young researchers and entrepreneurs are committed to bring change in their home towns. To make a living of growing herbs, mushrooms fish or even edible insects in the limited space available in Brussels, Liege or Honk Kong isn’t easy, especially with an unclear regulatory framework. But an increasing number of enthusiastic pioneers are paving the way for an innovative and economically viable urban farming industry.

A delegation of young Belgian Urban farmers just paid a one week visit to their peers in Hong Kong with the support of the Belgian Hong Kong Society Education Fund network. The study trip was organised by the non profit organisation TroPeople, which supports early stage young entrepreneurs in environmental and agri-food sectors.

Even though each Belgian participant works in a different sector of urban agriculture, all of the activities had a relevant interest for everyone. Some activities were nevertheless more specific to some participants. For example “Champignons de Bruxelles” represented by Thibaut Fastenakels is a farm that produces button mushrooms in Brussels, using brewery waste as a growth medium. Thibault had the chance to meet M. Thomas Lau, a mushroom farm manager. They had the opportunity to share about their various techniques. Visiting the HKU rooftop garden, the JACCAC Roooftop Garden, M. Fai Hui’s farm and MaPopo initiative were opportunities to learn more about the land use, public health and food safety regulations, rooftop occupation best practices and availability but also about the difficulties such projects have to tackle. These visits were particularly interesting for Alexandre Lefebvre, a researcher who just launched the BacUp concept consisting in a special system of trays adapted to rooftop farming, Nicolas Tsurukawa, a PhD student working on legislation topics related to urban farming, Valérie De Munter running “Jardins comestibles” a non profit organisation helping new farmers to design their urban farms, Melo Carrion Grace a young project-bearer interested in food distribution networks and Bruno Godin a micro brewer and urban hop farmer. Other visits had especially been programmed for Gilles Stouvenakers and M. Nikolaas Viaene. Gilles is a PhD student in aquaponics systems and was particurlarly delighted to meet the owners of Evergreens Republic, the largest commercial aquaponic farm in Asia. They were able to share their doubts, questions but also exchange their experiences and techniques. As for M. Nikolaas Viaene, he represented “Little Food”. This urban farm produces edible insects as a delicacy for human consumption in Brussels. In order to have a better insight of the ‘novel foods’ available in Hong Kong, the group visited Sheung Wan Market and met with the manager of the ‘People of Yunnan’s Resturant’ to try their insect recepies and visited the kitchen with the chef to see how the insects are cooked. The participants also shared their knowledge by participating to several talks where they had been invited to present their work and by organising a brewing workshop at the HKU and sharing some special Belgian beers. They wish good luck to urban farmers in Hong Kong and hope that the sector will grow strong!

Nicolas Tsurukawa