Business blooms in Belvedere College's urban farm

 

Fish and clubs: students Eoin Regan (14) and Ray Taylor (17)
Fish and clubs: students Eoin Regan (14) and Ray Taylor (17)

With a rooftop view of Croke Park and the O'Connell Street spire, it is an unlikely location for a thriving farm.

Belvedere College is the setting for one of Dublin's busiest urban farms. Encouraged by the lead farmer Simon O'Donnell, students at the well-known Jesuit school grow ­vegetables and produce fish in a tank, and sell the produce to parents at the school.

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Later this year, Belvedere will become the first school in the country to include Urban Agriculture as a subject with a short course in the junior cycle curriculum. Students will have the option of studying the subject for two classes every week.

As well as growing a wide variety of vegetables including lettuce, pak choi and tomatoes, students also farm fish using an aquaponic system. Waste from the fish is used as fertiliser for the plants.

The farm has also grown 180 different varieties of potato and has its own beehives. Electricity for the grow lab is supplied through a solar panel.

"Urban farming is very good for growing crops such as herbs and salad greens, but it will not be used to grow staple crops such as barley and wheat," says O'Donnell.

"Urban farming should be an integral part of future urban planning - having that connection with growing can only be good for the health of the city."

O'Donnell says the farm, which started in 2014, has huge educational value from a number of different points of view.

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"The farm is popular with a wide variety of students. Some students love just getting hands-on experience of planting seeds and caring for fish.

"Others are passionate about sustainability and climate change, while some students are into the technology. Others are interested in the business side of selling produce."

There are now plans to replicate the farm project at three other schools in Dublin's inner city.

Urban farming has become mainstream in many foreign cities, with growers supplying vegetables to supermarkets.

In the Growing Underground farm in London, a variety of microgreens are grown 100ft below ground in an old World War II air-raid shelter.

The underground farm grows herb and salad mixes - pea shoots, garlic chives, coriander, rocket, red mustard, basil and parsley - for Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

In Rotterdam in the Netherlands, a developer is building the world's first floating dairy farm near the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas river.

The farm is being built on a 1,200-square-metre platform, spread over three levels.

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