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BGC, Bafi shows developers what to do with your available open spaces

Ralph Becker of Urban Greens

MANILA-based Agri-Tech and urban farming company Urban Greens, (Urban Greens Hydroponics Systems Inc.) is announcing a project tie-up with the Bonifacio Arts Foundation Inc. (Bafi) under the direction of the head curator of The Mind Museum, who oversees all things art- and science-related in BGC.

The project is based on the creation of a prototype hydroponic setup within the premises of The Mind Museum science museum, to show off futuristic farming techniques like hydroponics to grow clean and healthy greens right in the heart of the city space.

Fresh, affordable produce in our cities is often difficult to find. Supermarkets and local markets are still dependent on vegetables grown with traditional farming methods and transported from distant farms.

Filipinos battle with rising food prices, inconsistent quality produce, and limited supply. This will prove unsustainable as the Philippine population is projected to increase from 106 million (in 2018) to 142 million by 2045—about two thirds of which will live in urban areas.

A growing movement of urban farming is providing methods towards more sustainable agriculture practices. Integrating hydroponic farms into our present and future urban spaces is one way to secure access to cleaner and fresher grown produce.

Environment-friendly farming

Urban Greens, a farming company founded in 2016, advocates hydroponic farming as a means to unlocking the ability of anyone, including urban dwellers, to grow their own food more efficiently. Hydroponic farming or hydroponics is when plants are grown without soil. Instead, the plant roots absorb the nutrients it needs from nutrient-rich water.

Compared to traditional farming that is resource-intensive and utilizes chemical inputs, hydroponics uses 90 percent less water and does not use chemical weed or pest-control products. This is critical as the world’s resources of clean water, fossil fuels and arable soil is finite. Decades of intensive agriculture production has also damaged different environments. What is often forgotten is that the health of the planet impacts the health of the people. Finding alternative systems, such as growing food in our own communities, enables our lands and resources to recover for the use of future generations.    

Climate-resilient communities and farming systems

Developing climate-resilient communities must be prioritized as the Philippines ranks fifth among the countries most affected to extreme weather events from 1998 to 2017. Scientists have projected that temperatures will continue to increase until the end of the century resulted to extended droughts or intense rainfall, sea-level rise and stronger typhoons. The urban landscape creates opportunities for more protected and controlled farms from the changing climate.

Even with limited space, an urban farmer can choose to stack hydroponic systems or to plant “vertically” to maximize available space both indoors and outdoors. Options that improve the availability and accessibility of quality produce at consistent prices. Vegetables and herbs could be easily grown and harvested indoors, such as offices, restaurants and homes. One could also tend to the plants in an outdoor setting, such as under-utilized rooftops, terraces or backyards.  

Urban Greens works with individuals and organizations to find the types of hydroponic system that would address their needs. The company strives to build systems that can be easily used, maintained and refitted using local materials.

Promoting healthier lifestyles and well-being

The proximity of one’s food to the place of work and inhabit encourages individuals to reconnect with nature and what they eat.  Freshly picked vegetables are more nutritious and retain improved aroma and flavor. These are often lost when vegetables are packaged and transported through traffic-laden routes.

More hydroponically grown vegetables may help improve the eating habits of Filipinos. In urban areas where convenience is preferred, studies show that the total of local household food expenditures for food away from home has gradually increased from 11.5 percent in 2000 to 17.5 percent in 2012.

The per-capita consumption of Filipino households of vegetables only averages 22.4 kilograms per year. This pales in comparison to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommended level consumption of 146 to 182 kg/yr. Higher intake of fresh greens reduce the risks of major chronic diseases and avert nutritional deficiencies.

Settling roots within communities

Establishing hydroponic farms and community gardens make cities more sustainable, providing both green public spaces and access to quality nutrition. In such environment, creative synergy is able to flourish and partnerships can begin to cultivate among residents, farmers, local businesses, academe and local leaders.

As of 2018, Urban Greens has been building a prototype farm in collaboration with the Bafi. Based on its modular and scalable nature, it has the potential to be developed on a much bigger scale supplying produce to establishments and residents within Bonifacio Global City and neighboring communities. Other projects of the company include a partnership with a major real estate developer.

Urban Greens envisions that hydroponic urban farming will evolve the Philippine vegetable food scene and provide a sustainable addition to our communities.

If you want to know more about how to grow your own vegetables and become an urban farmer, Urban Greens also offers to a Hydroponics 101 Workshops for individuals and companies.

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil. As only water is used, there is no need for pesticides, fertilizers or fungicides and much less water than conventional farming is used. Not needing soil or land-space makes it perfect for the urban setting.

In addition, as those greens are grown amid a highly urbanized area surrounded by numerous restaurants and condo units, this project demonstrates how to provide the vegetables and herbs needed by those establishments and dramatically reduce the time and energy used in transportation – resulting in cheaper, fresher and tastier greens. The system itself will always be connected to Internet of Things devices, monitoring the overall status and sending the data to their cloud servers, as to optimize the growing conditions for the plants. This highly modular and scalable prototype system can serve as a potential template for a much bigger urban farm setup.  

Apart from the project with The Mind Museum, Urban Greens has secured a strategic partnership with one of the major Philippine property developers who has invested an undisclosed sum into the hydroponics company. The main objective of the investment is to revolutionize the hydroponics and precrafted structures business and the vision is to reinvent the farming system, and fabrication, supply and installation of technology of modular buildings, homes, event spaces and other structures making the Urban Greens the biggest vertical farm in the Philippines, and eventually in the global market.  Once established, it will not only solve high cost, and inconsistent quality and supply of fresh produce, but also expand its business in branding, marketing, licensing, management, design and supply.

Urban Greens is the regional representative of the international Association for Vertical Farming and the only member in the Philippines.

Urban Greens is a 2-year-old start-up founded by former tech/ corporate biz dev, turned hydroponic enthusiast Filipino-German Ralph Becker with a big vision for accessible and high-end hydroponically grown food for big scale businesses as well as home usage.

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