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Urban farming: growing vegetables on the rooftop of a car park


Singapore is a small country in South-East Asia–practically a city state, where the urban centre dominates most of the island. Land is a scarce resource and agriculture is limited, contributing less than 1% of the country’s GDP. Understandably, the country has turned to technology to support its local production.

Image credit: Straits Times-Ng Sor Luan

A new 1800m2 rooftop farm has been installed on the rooftop of a car park in a residential part of Ang Mo Kio district. Is is designed to grow up to four tonnes of 25 types of vegetables per month, enough to feed 1600 people.

In fact, the farm is located in an area which until the 1970s was dominated by secondary forests and agricultural land but, as the city grew, it is now purely urban and ranks 8th in population density in the country.

The word “farm” in this case is not even remotely connected to the image of cultivated streaks of land so characteristic of traditional agriculture. The facility consists of a complex network of white pipes, which have holes cut into them to create pockets to host plants.

The growing medium is clay pebbles and a constant stream of water and nutrients pumped through the pipes. The so-called “Aqua Organic System” does not use pesticides nor does it produce any waste, while the design is oriented towards minimal energy consumption and optimal utilization of space. Citiponics, the company behind the facility, sells their produce to the local supermarket to minimise its ecological footprint.

The first seeds were planted in February 2019, and the first harvest is expected already in April.

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  1. The superposed pipe design makes the most use of natural light, but it will take a lot of manual resources to seed and harvest, not the most efficient “future farming.” Rooftops are mostly underused but should probably be more dedicated to photovoltaics and wind turbines, with some real garden and barbecue places on residential buildings.

    I see the long term future of farming more underground than in vertical towers, much too valuable for residential use as the population grows, and also using vats of yeast or other GMOs to produce food or single molecules, a bit like we produce artificial vanillin today. Megacities such as Singapore are indeed very interesting to watch, as they face these challenges first.

    Still, I am not too kin on hydroponics such as this project, I am trying at home a form of “organic” hydroponics that still relies on real soil and soil organisms rather than an inert substrate such as coconut fiber, rock wool or expanded clay, and natural nutrients such as the ones used in aquaponics, compost tea, etc. All this mostly for taste rather than organic at all cost and despite the science.

    Automate seeding and harvesting is also a must, and a system that uses metallic trays seems to me more durable, sustainable and efficient than one that uses pierced plastic pipes: You can replace an harvested tray with a seeded one in seconds, you can harvest a single tray or even the whole farm in one second too.


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