AN EXCITING COLLABORATION BETWEEN UOA AND HOMEGROWN FARMS REVEALS THE FIRST VERTICAL AQUAPONIC ROOFTOP FARM ON TOP OF NEXUS BANGSAR SOUTH
Four storeys up, sitting contentedly on the rooftop of Nexus, UOA’s contemporary lifestyle centre in Bangsar South, is a vertical aquaponic farm that is serving as an inspiring example of how productive and rewarding urban farming can be. The fruit of a sustainability initiative by UOA, this collaborative project was undertaken in partnership with Homegrown Farms, sustainable farming specialists who were one of the winners of Khazanak Nasional Entrepreneurship Outreach Programme 2018.
Both UOA and the husband-and-wife team behind Homegrown Farms, Michael Simon and Ivy Sam, shared a common goal in that they wanted to contribute towards the creation of a sustainable city environment. Urban farming, they felt, could contribute to the sustainability of Bangsar South and Kerinchi neighbourhood in a variety of ways, reaping social, economical, and environmental benefits. Keen to find an underused space that could be repurposed and revalued, UOA surveyed several rooftops in Bangsar South before selecting Nexus for its accessibility and safe, secured perimeter.
As one of the pioneers of vertical aquaponic rooftop farming agricultural solutions, Homegrown Farms was ideally placed to advise UOA on the most suitable type of urban farm to install on Nexus’ rooftop. A vertical aquaponic farm, Michael explained, would take up minimal space and make for a pristine system – one that combines aquaculture (the rearing of fish) with hydroponics (plant-growing) within a water medium, mimicking a natural ecosystem and creating a potent, dynamic equilibrium between fish, plants, and bacterial microorganisms.
In celebration of the milestone that was the maiden harvest of Nexus’ rooftop farm, UOA organised a series of mini-tours to create awareness about urban agriculture amongst its staff members, where participants learnt more about the aquaponic system, tried crop harvesting, and even came away with bundles of fresh vegetables and seedling packets. The experience also provided them with the opportunity to spend time close to nature and consider the options of integrating urban farming into their city lifestyle.
Urban gardening is an activity that feels all the more relevant amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, which generated concerns surrounding a range of issues such as food security, access to freshly grown vegetables, and isolation-based declines in mental health – to which community-centric urban gardening projects seem like a viable solution.
For now, encouraged and inspired by the positive experiences gained from its pilot rooftop farming project at Nexus, UOA will continue to search for opportunities to create green spaces in its developments, paying particular attention towards integrating the benefits of city farming with its spatial planning and management. Keep an eye on the balconies at UOA Corporate Tower – it may well be that you will soon spot a few vertical aquaponic farms loaded with vegetables, ripe for picking.
The aquaponic farming system is powered by the bio- integration of individual components, where waste by-products from the fish feed the bacteria, which are in turn responsible for converting ammonia into usable nitrates capable of fertilising the plants. This allows the water to be returned to the fish in a safe and clean state. Requiring only a fibreglass fish tank, welded metal frames, and access to water and electricity, an aquaponic system is easily paired with vertical farming, which uses the space far more efficiently due to the absence of soil (which often necessitates horizontal planting).
Over an area of 200 square feet, a vertical farm can accommodate 1,090 plants (as compared with just 400 plants on a horizontal system) and yield 80 to 100 kilograms of vegetables every 30 days. And yield it did – in abundance. Once the construction of Nexus’ rooftop farm had been completed at the beginning of the RMCO and planting began in early July 2020, its first harvest in mid-September 2020 (and subsequent ones after that) produced a flourishing crop of organic, pesticide-free herbs and vegetables such as kale, mint, Okinawan spinach, bok choy and kailan.