In London, the Green Lab has been exploring agritech and urban agriculture for six months. We took part in an aquaponics workshop to meet them.
London, from our correspondent
The figures are damning. More than 75% of flying insects have disappeared from protected areas in Germany over the last twenty-seven years. 70% of freshwater resources, according to the United Nations, are used by agriculture (in 2011, and 44% in Europe) when 1% of available water on Earth is fresh in liquid form. Two thirds of the inhabitants of our planet already go through water shortages at least once a year. If agriculture does not change, Great Britain could experience a shortage of arable land in thirty or forty years, forewarned the Environment minister Michael Gove last October.
Jonathan Katona is giving out these alarming statistics. “It’s a balance between pessimism and optimism”, attempts to reassure the man who organized a workshop on aquaponics at the Green Lab mid-November. We are in London, visiting this co-working space, incubator and agritech and urban agriculture workshop, south of the Thames.
The Commander Cousteau of insects
The lab was created a year ago by Andrew Gregson after closing down Fablab London. “I started to get bored because the range of applications was too vast”, he explains while reminding us he opened this fablab in the center of London “mainly because the domain name fablablondon.com was available”. Following his career in technologies – Apple, BT, Yahoo, Sky TV… – and having founded several start-ups in communications, social networks and big data, this entrepreneur returned to his first love, environment. “When I was 9, I had a passion for Commander Cousteau, the environmentalist Gerard Durrell and David Attenborough (a filmmaker of very popular animal documentaries, editor’s note). Now that I have the technology skills, I want to take advantage of them for an environmental project. The circle is now complete.”
He has been opening the doors of the Green Lab to the outside world since last June. To start-ups and artists first: 35 residents, including some very young start-ups from Y Combinator, prestigious incubator in San Fransisco, details Andrew Gregson. Like Entocycle, winner of the ethical incubator Mass Challenge Platinum Award 2016, that breeds black soldier flies, or Hermetia illucens, to create sustainable food for farm animals. One also finds start-ups in biosynthesis, LED production or still microgreens, these young vegetables that contain on average five times more vitamins and carotenoid than grown vegetables. “We also have two artists in residence”, adds Andrew Gregson.
“Hermetia illucens” larvae at the Green Lab:
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The Greelab is also open to visitors. The first public workshop was held on November 18 and it was full (twenty or so people). In this introduction to aquaponics, Jonathan Katona taught us to make our own system (we will tell you about it soon). This workshop was the first of a long line, assures Andrew Gregson. On the program: how to keep your intestines healthy by fermenting your own kombucha (Mongolian sour drink), using alternative protein from plants by growing your own spirulina (microalga used as food supplement), growing your microgreens or learning to make your compost… “These are themes that raise awareness among the public and help people develop their own initiatives”, explains the founder.
At the Greenlab, the spirulina and hydroponics area at 28°:
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A castle in Spain
Third target, companies. Andrew Gregson set up a team of consultants capable of advising large groups. Ikea for example: “They are interested in what we do and will be even more when we tell them what we can do for them”, he says, slightly cryptic. He also cites the association Friends of the Earth or Barclays bank. “They want to invest or give their wealthy clients opportunities to invest. Agriculture is a growing field”, justifies Gregson. The entrepreneur also has ideas for farmers, clients of the banks too. “If we can help the farmer borrow more money by giving him the opportunity to produce more income for his farm by diversifying his offers, banks are interested. We can for example help a breeder of ruminants to set up his fish breeding farm. It doubles his income and he will need investments for it to happen.” Even though the consulting activity is not up to full speed (they started the activity six months ago, reminds Gregson), it is our objective, “the ideal situation, where we want to get to”, he says.
Also in the line of vision, Spain. Green Lab has already established a partnership with a farm in the north-east of England to access large agricultural areas and carry out more curious experiences on a large scale. They now wish to purchase land in the north of Spain to develop agritechs for arid environments. “It isn’t far from Africa, the climate is quite similar”, says the founder.
In the meantime, the lab team composed of ten or so people is setting up a compost network and showing an interest in recycling human organic matter under the impulsion of the PhD researcher Eve MacKinnon. Another project is looking at “peeponics” or how to transform urine into nutriments. But don’t say they are mad. “Each time you urinate, you use 8 liters to flush the loo. It’s drinkable water. 1% of water on the planet is available and one puts all sorts of shit in it.” A welcome reminder.
Coming soon on Makery the report from the Green Lab aquaponics workshop