Jellyfish Barges: The Future of Urban Farming?

Words by
Georgina Reid
| October 31, 2016

Imagine Sydney Harbour filled with floating farms. Imagine farmers growing produce on their entirely self-contained solar powered jellyfish barges and delivering it to shore, a few meters away. It sounds mad but it’s not – it could be the future if the team of scientists and designers at Pnat have their way.

Pnat is an Italian based think-tank focused on innovative design projects that mimic natural processes and address environmental issues in a sensitive and sustainable way. Led by plant neurobiologist and author Stefano Mancuso, Pnat is all about plants – using the exploration of plant patterns and behaviours to inspire their design concepts – all with the aim of connecting people to the natural world, and working towards an environmentally sustainable future for all.

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The Jellyfish Barge is one of Pnat’s recent projects. It’s a floating modular greenhouse that generates its own fresh water and energy using solar power. “It’s an affordable, transportable and replicable solution for growing food within cities,” the team states on their website.

Each barge has the potential to produce around 1000-1500 edible plants per month. The plants are grown hydroponically and the water required for their growth is extracted and distilled from the water the barge sits in – whether salt, brackish or polluted. Solar energy is used to power pumps, meaning that the entire farm is completely self contained – requiring no external resources to produce food.

There are currently two prototypes – one floating in the Navicelli Canal in Pisa and another in the Nuova Darsena in Milan. They’re designed to be lightweight and easy to build – therefore easy to replicate all over the world. Recycled polyethelene drums are used as the base of the barge, chosen because of their standardized size and international availability and a timber frame and ETFE plastic membrane are used to frame and clad the structure.

The beauty of this project is in the combination of agriculture and public utility – it’s designed as much to produce food as it is for human connection and social interaction. “The greenhouse can be used as an intensive production facility, as an extension of bars and restaurants using local vegetables in their menu, or as a community garden,” the team at Pnat suggest. “People can watch vegetables growing and experience agriculture in their daily life.”

As city populations increase and more land is gobbled up for housing, small farms once located around the peripheries of cities like Sydney are pushed further from the mouths they need to feed. Food miles, food and water insecurity, industrial agriculture, disconnection are all real and serious issues addressed in part by concepts like the Jellyfish Barge. It’s easy to be cynical, and easier to be apathetic, but that’s not where the solutions are. That’s not the future.

The future is, I hope, ideas like this. The future is, I hope, guided by people like the team at Pnat. People who listen to and learn from plants and who respect the ingenuity of the natural world. The future might just be jellyfish farms for all!

All images supplied by Pnat.

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