Can Fish Feed Plants?

In a gigantic overall installation, the perches bubble in an aquaculture, young vegetables sunbathe in a greenhouse. One of the largest urban farms in Europe was created in Berlin based on the aquaponics principle. A visit.

The premises of the Berlin ‘Malzfabrik’ (malt factory) are a historic place. A listed landmark with impressive chimneys, red bricks and rusty iron gates. What is not immediately noticeable: In the midst of the old walls there is a hyper-modern herb farm. Behind bright glass façades, basil and fish thrive under one roof.

On this site the company ECF Farmsystems is testing the principle ‘fish fertilises plant’ in one of the largest and most advanced aquaponics facilities in Europe. Pink sea bass and basil thrive here. It is a completely new way of producing food that uses very little water, no chemicals, and simultaneously produces fresh organic herbs in the middle of the big city.


Founders Christian Echternacht and Nicholas Leschke have already welcomed countless visitors to explain the principle in more detail in a guided tour. In the meantime word has spread that there is simply no fresher fish in Berlin than here. Now known as ‘Capital City Sea Bass’, the pink animal serves two functions: The culinary world appreciates it as a savoury fish but its excrements are also used to nourish basil. The waste water with the excretions of the fish is fed through biofilters, where it is processed to be used for the plants.

There are very good reasons why scientists have been researching the aquaponics principle for some time. On the one hand, it is driven by the search for new cultivation methods, since the world's arable land is increasingly getting scarce and thus more expensive. In dry regions, this type of cultivation also provides a completely new supply option. But of course it also provides a much more environmentally friendly way to produce healthy food. The Berlin farm makes long transport routes and elaborate cold chains obsolete.



‘We obviously need the proceeds from the fish and vegetable cultivation, but that’s not the main reason why we are doing this. Our goal is to sell the technology and implement our concept with partners,’ says Christian Echternacht. They have already successfully set up a farm in Switzerland. They have now built a 2,400m2 farm in Brussels and completed it in 2018. Today it is the largest farm in Europe. Additional projects are planned in Germany, Albania or Namibia.


The Principle ‘Fish Fertilises Plant’?

The tomato/fish principle is quite effective in practical terms: 30 tonnes of vegetables and 25 tonnes of tilapia (cichlids) are produced annually on the premises of the ‘Malzfabrik’. Compared to conventional cultivation, it saves 90 percent water and 70 percent surface area. The operators also do not need to rely on synthetic fertiliser. Its customers include various Michelin-decorated restaurants, the ‘Frische Paradies’ gourmet food supplier and three Berlin METRO halls. The entrepreneurs have even already sold fresh food boxes to people living in Berlin.

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