The field in the market hall: When vegetables come fresh from the roof – Wikipedia

In Brussels, vegetables and fish are widely grown on the roof of the market hall. This saves on long transportation routes and aims to provide sustainable food to the big city. But how does it work?

There is a lot going on in the “belly of Brussels” even before sunrise. The first delivery trucks roll through the front yard at Marché des Abattoirs, the slaughterhouse market. They bring boxes of vegetables, fragrant bread, fresh fish and exotic spices to the countless stalls. Lamb halves are brought from the nearby slaughterhouse – hence the name of the market.

Little distinguishes the hustle and bustle from many markets in other big cities. There is no indication that the future is being worked out here, as food is brought to the townspeople directly from their immediate surroundings. Because what is really unusual is invisible to the visitor and is located on the roof of one of the largest and newest buildings. A farm with greenhouses and fish farming facilities operated in “Foodmet”, a rather unattractive structure made of prestressed concrete. According to the manufacturers, it is one of the largest of its kind in Europe.

The complex has a bit of farmhouse romance

A narrow staircase takes visitors to a place that at first glance looks like a lush green oasis in a sea of ​​houses. Large greenhouses protect delicate plants from the harsh northern European climate. Behind the panes of glass, fields of basil alternate with tomato and pepper plants. But the work here has nothing to do with the romance of the farm. When Loc Couttelle explains how the entire system works, it feels like a lecture on physical relationships, engineering, biology, and business dependence.

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The realization of the BIGH project began nearly five years ago. BIGH stands for Building Integrated Greenhouses. From the start, business procedures have been constantly developed, says Loïc Couttelle, who runs a large organic farm near Lille and invests his money in promising agricultural projects. He is convinced that there will be many more rooftop farms in the future. The goal in Brussels is to experience the best conditions for each production region. “We want to develop different modules here that can easily be set up elsewhere.” It quickly becomes clear that the heart of business makers is beating for micromanipulation of the environment, but that fine account of business people is at work here, too.



Fish provides nutrients for plants

The Frenchman is especially fond of fish farming, which he can talk about for hours. It was important to find the right species of fish, Loïc Couttelle describes the first obstacles. For example, the inexpensive salmon market is already covered, which is why, after several attempts with other fish, they have now ended up with trout. More than 20 tons are delivered to restaurants and retailers in Brussels every year, enthusiastic about high quality.

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Loïc Couttelle explains that the water in the huge breeding ponds is constantly circulated and cleaned and is part of a large cycle. For example, fish secretions are the ideal fertilizer for plants in greenhouses. Herbs, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and a few other types of vegetables are mainly grown in Brussels on an area of ​​more than 2,000 square metres. However, the products don’t get the organic seal because: “We grow the plants on a substrate and not in natural soil,” he explains, but emphasizes that they contain the same nutrients that are out there in the soil. Of course, no chemicals or pesticides will be used to control insects. “We depend 100 percent on nature,” says the French.

The energy comes in part from our house

The power supply for the entire facility high above the Marché des Abattoirs is just as complex as the farming of fish and plants. Everything is designed to use as little electricity as possible and take advantage of natural resources. Of course, a large photovoltaic system is installed on part of the roof. “We also generate a large portion of the electricity from waste heat from greenhouses,” explains Loïc Couttelle, where water tanks for fish, for example, are always kept at exactly 17 degrees. But waste heat from the many refrigerators in the restaurants on the ground floor of the Foodmet Building is also converted into energy for the farm using special heat pumps. “Nothing is lost here,” says the businessman.

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It turns out that Loïc Couttelle is on a mission. “We are working here in the city of tomorrow, which will be more sustainable and resource efficient,” he says. Couttelle already has the next project in mind. “It would be possible to extract carbon dioxide from the outside air and direct it to the greenhouses,” he says, describing the tempting idea. This will kill two birds with one stone, Cotell says, the climate-damaging gas will be reduced and plants will grow better. It will be the next small step towards a more livable environment.

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