Urban fish farming: Getting your greens the sustainable aquaponics way

027_grow_up_box_01_RT1_SC-1024x683GrowUp Urban Farms grow fresh, sustainably produced salads and greens in the city using a method called “aquaponics”. The company supply greens – including pea shoots, baby kale, rocket and Chinese celery – to restaurants and retailers in London, and to home delivery services including Farmdrop.

Starting life back in 2013 as the GrowUp Box – an upcycled shipping container, based in east London’s Stratford, with a greenhouse built on top – GrowUp Urban Farms’ method of aquaponics involve the greens growing on water in a tank which also contains fish, mainly tilapia. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants, and in turn the plants clean the water for the fish.

GrowUp was founded in 2013 by Kate Hofman and Tom Webster to build sustainable commercial urban farms growing food for local markets. Acting like a demo or “testing station”, the GrowUp Box enabled the team “through trial, error and persistence, to gauge how aquaponically grown produce grows, looks and tastes”.

Now the team are building the UK’s first aquaponic, vertical urban farm, known as Unit 84, inside an industrial warehouse in Beckton.


The farm combines two well-established farming practices – aquaculture (farming fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil) in a recirculating system. The 6,000 square feet of growing space will produce more than 20,000 kg of sustainable salads and herbs (enough for 200,000 salad bags) and 4,000 kg of fish each year.

The way food is grown now is unsustainable. GrowUp Urban Farms set out to address some of these issues, by using aquaponic and vertical growing techniques to build farms in cities, as well as making use of neglected inner-city spaces including empty rooftop and brownfield sites.

The GrowUp Team added: “All our produce is sustainably grown and delivered locally – reconnecting people with the way food is produced and what it takes to produce it. With growing awareness and demand for ethically produced food, GrowUp is well-positioned to become an innovator in food production that is well-adapted to an urban environment.”

By 2050, more than 6 out of every 10 people on the planet will be living in cities. In the UK, 82% of the population already lives in urban areas, and this figure is expected to rise considerably in the future.

By reducing the distance from farm to fridge, GrowUp Urban Farms aim to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases associated with the processes of refrigerating, storing and transporting food.

The GrowUp Urban Farms Team said: “With a growing population, innovation in agriculture is needed if we are to develop a socially and environmentally sustainable means of feeding people in cities. Traditional agriculture currently accounts for over 30% of Greenhouse Gas emissions, 70% of freshwater use, almost 50% of all available land on earth.

“GrowUp Urban Farms aims to address some of the fundamental flaws in our global agricultural system by using aquaponic and vertical growing techniques to build farms in cities. By using empty rooftop and brownfield sites in inner-city spaces, our farms help make use of neglected city spaces in a way that adds value to these spaces and the people involved with them.”

The GrowUp Urban Farms decided to set up in London for various reasons, including the capital’s thriving sustainable restaurant network.

“London is the city that the rest of the world looks to when it comes to innovation and sustainability – and offers exciting opportunities for us to scale the business and build more farms. London has plenty of potential for urban food development. The sustainable restaurant network in London is active and competitive when it comes to sourcing niche and exciting local produce. The city is also creating a growing awareness and demand for ethically produced food.”

While GrowUp Urban Farms concentrate their efforts in the UK, the company acknowledge projects worldwide including the US-based, The Urban Farming Guys, for its innovative ways of farming to help support communities.

The Urban Farming Guys mission is to establish sustainable communities in the most difficult and overlooked places on earth. It begins with local food and water security, alternative energy, and local economic resilience.

The collective is currently working on projects in both Mexico and east India, where they are building off-grid fish farms at orphanages in both places. UFG works to empower indigenous groups, partnering to build economic forces from the inside out, creating jobs, building resilient communities with affordable healthy food access, and to establishing alternative water and energy solutions that ultimately preserve life in many geographic situations.


Rosalyn Medea is a journalist, writer, spiritual life coach and intuitive reader. She specialises in writing about sustainable Life & Style and hunts the globe to find people creating innovative things sustainably.

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