Our cities are reliant upon complex food systems.
These systems have developed over time to ensure that the greatest number of people have the easiest access to the cheapest goods. While this has led to the growth of economies and of populations, the costs both to urban communities and to our natural environment have been vast.
While more than half of Germany’s land is used for agriculture, four out of five of its citizens live in urban areas, so don’t often see or think about the production of the food they consume.
But when you do think about it, the unsustainability of our current food practices becomes immediately clear. On a rapidly heating planet, food loss and waste account for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, nutrition and health in communities still vary considerably depending on socio-economic status.
Sometimes, systems need a shake-up
In June 2020, Impact Hub Berlin began a search for Germany’s most promising food innovators leading the way towards more sustainable cities. With the help of a panel of industry experts, we selected the five teams teams with the highest potential to move the dial on the challenge.
Feeding the City is a social enterprise incubation programme originally conceived by Impact Hub Kings Cross in the UK. Powered by Bank of America and with the support of local partners, the programme – happening in Germany for the first time – kickstarts ideas for better food businesses.
Feeding the City teams tackle the issues in our food systems from different perspectives. One of the ventures, Roots Radicals, set itself the challenge of reducing food loss and waste through creating zero-waste preserves. Instead of throwing away the traditionally discarded parts of fresh foods, Roots Radicals turn them into tasty, planet-protecting condiments.
“We believe in a circular economy and explore this so-called ‘waste’ as an opportunity,” says Co-Founder, Monica Kisic Aguirre. The team also organise workshops that reconnect participants to food through education, empowering people to make more informed nutritional decisions. Since starting the programme, they’ve also secured a new business opportunity: a regular stall at Markthalle Neun (Berlin’s trendiest indoor food market).
Growing impact in small spaces
Some of the waste produce Roots Radicals collect recently came from collaborating with another of the Feeding the City teams – Tiny Farms. Six months ago, founders Tobias Leiber and Jakob Fels founded their first organic micro-farm on a small half-hectare plot in Brandenburg.
“We’re creating a new kind of farm,” Tobias tells us. “Small enough to be managed by one person; highly productive to create appropriate income; organic and low input to be as sustainable as possible.”
The Roots Radicals team collecting food waste from Tiny Farms.
Tiny Farms are already supplying local supermarkets, as well as schools, some of which have begun arranging visits to the farm so that the students can learn more about where their food comes from. The founders will open a second and third plot next Spring, with the long-term goal of establishing a network of sustainable micro-farms.
People power means consumer control
One of the many issues with urban food distribution is that despite the great range in products and outlets available, the human and environmental costs are overwhelmingly intransparent. Feeding the City team SuperCoop Berlin are out to change that.
Based on a model tried and tested in New York and Paris, the idea of cooperative supermarkets takes profit-driven shareholders out of the equation, implementing consumer control in its place. SuperCoop members will buy a share and volunteer once per month, in return receiving nutritious, sustainably sourced produce at cost price. In the short time they’ve been on the programme, SuperCoop has become a legally established enterprise, aiming to open its first store in early 2021.
One of their sustainable supply chains could come from initiatives like ARC Farms, another Feeding the City participant. ARC Farms are piloting an innovative production method using aquaponics units to grow food in small spaces close to the consumer.
Aquaponics systems help urban farmers to grow produce using nutrients derived from fish excretions. ARC Farms also plan to implement a subscription model, whereby consumers can train up to run their own growing system near to where they live. The circular concept is already being rolled out in many places globally, and thanks to this team, it could soon become a mainstay in Berlin too.
Embedding innovation on your doorstep
The final team is PlattenBaum – founded by two architects, Kerem Halbrecht and Maayan Strauss – who have developed plans to integrate urban growing infrastructure within a housing complex.
Maayan, PlattenBaum Co-Founder, presenting the project to the Impact Hub Berlin community.
“We’re developing three modules that cater to different groups,” Kerem says, “mini-greenhouses that residents can rent on a month-to-month basis and operate themselves; a vertical farming tower for commercial production of food; and a third module for community gardening to be installed above existing parking lots.”
Working with experts they met through Feeding the City, PlattenBaum are currently shaping their business model and preparing to establish partnerships with other industry players.
On Thursday 3rd December, these five Feeding the City teams will share more of their updates at the programme’s virtual Demo Day. Make sure you’re there to join them. Contact [email protected] with any enquiries.