Integrated sustainability assessment of social and technological innovations towards urban food systems

1 Comment

Networking: Visit to Toronto’s urban agriculture projects and Ryerson University

Urban agriculture project have spread over Toronto, as it can be seen in the UA projects map of the Toronto Urban Growers website. Project are classified among community gardens (Toronto parks, Public housing, other), allotment gardens, school and childern’s gardens, urban agriculture businesses (producers), organizations, rooftop gardens, greenhouses, beehives and orchards.

Taking advantage of my visit to North America for the ISIE-ISSST 2017 conference, I visited Prof. Joe Nasr at Ryerson University (Centre for Studies in Food Security), who showed me some of the vibrant UA projects in the city of Toronto.


Ryerson Urban Farm – link

Taking the advantage of a former green roof, the Ryerson Urban Farm started to cultivate the roof of one of the Campus buildings with a pilot plot. Currently, the Farm crops the entire rooftop, including two recent beehives, have some spots with container cultivation around the campus, a food forest and a flower garden. The Farm employs soil-based ecological growing methods (crop rotation, composting, mulching). Tours, educational programs and community engagement complement the food production of the rooftop farm. Food is sold through farmers’ markets (in the same Campus), to restaurants and via Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA).

The Farm in the news – link


Evergreen Brick Works – link

EVERGREEN Brick Works is a “place where the world can experience sustainable practices that enable flourishing cities of the future”. Through the renovation of a deterioring heritage building of past industry in Toronto’s Don Valley, this new spot of the city is a public space and meeting point to exchange and disseminate about green cities, ecology, planning, design, technology and arts. Regarding urban agriculture, Brick Works hosts a farmers’ market on Saturdays, the largest market of Toronto which started in 2007, engaging a large community to get to know local producers. Evergreen also hosts a demonstrative Urban Farming Unit by Ripple Farms (see below). Furthermore, citizens can find local seedlings and urban gardening elements in the EVERGREEN shop at Brick works to develop their own urban gardens.


Know more: Evergreen Brick Works: A Story of Change – Video link

Ripple Farms – link

Ripple Farms is a social enterprise developing the aquaponics technology and business moel in Canada, with its first Urban Farming Unit placed in Evergreen Brick Works. The project aims to produce food locally, in an organic manner, year-round and seeking for resource efficiency (e.g., water and nutrients recirculation). Currently, the unit produces Tilapia and different greens (Arugula Microleaf, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Chard Flamingo, Frisee Endive, Little Gem Lettuce, Mustard Sprouts, Purple Basil, Sunflower Sprouts). Food production is combined with education and dissemination, such as workshops for citizens and schools.


FoodShare at Eastdale – link

The School grown program at Eastdale Collegiate Institute is one of the UA programs of FoodShare in the city of Toronto. The rooftop garden implemented in the former rooftop playground of the school is made of wooden beds and self-watering buckets. Soil with compost is employed for the cultivation. The main objective of the project is to educate and tran youth in food production, cooking and marketing. The education is also the main axis of the business model, complemented with the selling of the produce in farmer’s markets and to restaurants. A total of 65 crops are cultivated in this rooftop, dominated by leaf greens, which have the higher value in the market. Fertilization is performed with self-made compost, as composting and waste management is one focus of the School Grown program. During summer, the program employs students looking for summer jobs to fund their studies.

Learn more: FoodShare’s video




1 Comment

Case study: LED lighting solutions for indoor farming – Bologna, Italy

Location: Bologna, Italy

Typology: Indoor farming – LED lighting

Urban area: Inner city – Building-integrated

Innovation type: Technological innovation

Main functions: Experimental research – Education and training – Resource-efficient food production

Users: Researchers – Companies – Students – Citizens




The LED farming experiments at the Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences of the University of Bologna, in collaboration with the company FLYTECH, look for optimizing the design of indoor farms by employing this technology. Different types of light technologies, spectra and crops are tested in this indoor farm lab. Productivity, nutritional quality of grown products, resources use efficiency are evaluated.



 Crops: Lettuce

Techniques: Floating hydroponic in individual plots with artificial LED lighting

Irrigation: Only initial irrigation is provided

Use of renewable resources:

Sustainable practices: Resource efficiency – High crop density





  • Pennisi et al. (2017). Different Red:Blue ratios in LED lighting affect productivity, nutritional and physiological parameters of indoor idroponically grown lettuce. Book of Abstracts International Symposium on Greener Cities for more efficient ecosystem services in a climate changing world, Bologna 12-15 September 2017, p. 119.

Case study: Home gardening – Padua, Italy

Location: Padua, Italy

Typology: Home garden

Urban area: Inner city – building – rooftop

Innovation type: Social innovation

Main functions: social inclusion – community development – food self-production

Users: Private users – Neighbours




The home garden under assessment is managed by a family with the aim of evaluating the potential food production of home gardens. The family produce and consume the garden outputs.



Crops: 13 crops and varieties

Techniques: Soil production with combined fertilization

Irrigation: Drip irrigation

Use of renewable resources: 100% manual practices – Industrial compost

Sustainable practices: Local production – Local varieties – Seasonal production – No packaging use

Other products:

Case study: ICTA Rooftop greenhouse – Barcelona, Spain

Location: Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain

Typology: Rooftop greenhouse

Urban area: Inner city – Rooftop

Innovation type: Technological innovation

Main functions: Experimental research – Education and training – Resource-efficient food production

Users: Researchers – Companies – Students

2014-06-18 09.20.08.jpg



In 2014, the research-oriented i-RTG was constructed on the top of the building that hosts the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) and Catalan Institute of Palaeontology (ICP). The purpose of the RTG-Lab is to demonstrate the feasibility of RTGs in Mediterranean areas and the potentialities of i-RTGs. The i-RTG will utilise residual heat from the building (e.g. lab air), CO2 concentrations in this residual air (i.e. which will be used as natural fertiliser) and rainwater collected from the rooftop.



Crops: Tomato, Lettuce, Green Beans

Techniques: Integrated rooftop greenhouse

Irrigation: Automatic fertirrigation – Rainwater

Use of renewable resources: Use of rainwater – Use of CO2-rich air

Sustainable practices: Production km.0 – Resource efficient design




  • Pons, O., Nadal, A., Sanyé-Mengual, E., Llorach-Massana, P., Cuerva, E., Sanjuan-Delmàs, D., Muñoz, P., Oliver-Solà, J., Planas, C., Rovira, M.R., 2015. Roofs of the Future: Rooftop Greenhouses to Improve Buildings Metabolism, in: Procedia Engineering. doi:10.1016/j.proeng.2015.10.084
  • Sanyé-Mengual, E., Llorach-Massana, P., Sanjuan-Delmás, D., Oliver-Solà, J., Josa, A., Montero, J.I., Rieradevall, J., 2014. The ICTA-ICP Rooftop Greenhouse Lab (RTG-Lab): closing metabolic flows (energy, water, CO2) through integrated Rooftop Greenhouses, in: Roggema, R., Keefer, G. (Eds.), “Finding Spaces for Productive spaces” 6th AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Conference. VHL University of Applied Sciences, Velp, pp. 692–701.
  • Sanyé-Mengual, E., Martinez-Blanco, J., Finkbeiner, M., Cerdà, M., Camargo, M., Ometto, A.R., Velásquez, L.S., Villada, G., Niza, S., Pina, A., Ferreira, G., Oliver-Solà, J., Montero, J.I., Rieradevall, J., 2016. Urban horticulture in retail parks: Environmental assessment of the potential implementation of rooftop greenhouses in European and South American cities. J. Clean. Prod. 172. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.11.103
  • Sanyé-Mengual, E., Oliver-Solà, J., Montero, J.I., Rieradevall, J., 2015. An environmental and economic life cycle assessment of Rooftop Greenhouse (RTG) implementation in Barcelona, Spain. Assessing new forms of urban agriculture from the greenhouse structure to the final product level. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 20, 350–366. doi:10.1007/s11367-014-0836-9


Scientific dissemination: Seminar at SWUAS

As part of the scientific dissemination of the project, seminars in scientific institutions of every country involved in the project will be held. During the secondment in Dortmund, a seminar in the Fachhochschüle Südwestfalen was organized to exchange knowlege with the researchers.

The seminar lead to an interesting conversation on what is the role of urban agriculture in the Global North and what is the viability of urban agriculture projects. The questions dealt with during the discussion can be summarized in a collection of recent news and online publications:


Outreach events: Participation in the first meeting of the “Aquaponics network of North Rhine-Westphalia”

Yesterday 18th May, SustUrbanFoods joined the first meeting of the “Aquaponics network of North Rhine-Westphalia” to talk about the sustainability of aquaponics and the case studies of aquaponics systems within the project.

The event was organized by Aufbruch am Arrenberg, the association die Urbanisten and the SWUAS university within the framework of the ERASMUS+ Urban Green Train project, as a multiplier event.

The goal of the event was to exchange expertise and experiences between the administration, aquaponics companies, associations and NGOs, service companies and academics of the sector. The three axis of the meeting were the following:

  • How can aquaponics contribute to sustainable food production?
  • Which social and labor market-relevant opportunities open up?
  • Which bodies are involved when an urban aquaponics project is to be implemented?


  • 9:00 am Get-together
  • 9:30 am Welcome
  • 9:50 am What is Aquaponik – Rolf Morgenstern
  • 10:00 am The Urban Green Train Project – Bernd Pölling
  • 10:20 am Sustainability of Aquaponics – Dr. Esther Sanyé-Mengual
  • 11:00 am Break and exchange
  • 11:30 am Climate Expo – Michael Walther
  • 11:40 am The Aquaponik Verband – Mandy Schreck
  • 12:00 hrs Aquaponik Manufaktur – Ingo Bläser
  • 12:10 am Integrated Pest Management – Dr. Peter Dapprich
  • 12:30 am Aquaponics and Social Work – Yvonne Fischer
  • 12:50 pm lunch break and exchange
  • 1:45 pm Panel discussion: Mandy Schreck, Jörg Heynkes, Rolf Morning Star, Peter
    Dapprich, Mrs. Bonitz (?)
  • 2:30 pm The project Arrenbergfarm – Jörg Heynkes
  • 14:40 h Plantastik – Niels Rehkop
  • 14:50 am Aquaponics at the FH Soest – Rolf Morgenstern
  • 15:10 Food Safety – Dr. Eberhard Büker
  • 15:30 h Plant Nutrition – Wolfgang Grüne
  • 15:45 Coffee and closing day

Outreach events: explaining Susturbanfoods to highschool students during the “Giornata del Clima”

Last Friday we visited a highschool in Bologna (Liceo Scientifico Statale Albert Bruce Sabin) in the framework of the “Giornata del clima” event, organized by the ShowRoom Energia e Ambiente from the city council of Bologna (Comune di Bologna Iperbole Rete Civica). The event aimed to put together researchers and young students while raising the awareness of research as well as current Earth issues (commerating the 22nd April – Earth Day).

We talked about the role of local food cultivation in a more sustainable World. First, we presented the research lines at the Research Center in Urban Environment for Agriculture and Biodivercity (ResCUE-AB). Then, we showed the global objectives and the case studies considered in the SustUrbanFoods projects, paying attention to the on-going initiatives in the city of Bologna. Lastly, our colleague Nicola showed how urban and home gardens can be set up by re-using bottles and soil-less techniques.