J-STORIES - This April, an unusual farm opened on the roof of a coffee shop in central Tokyo. Agriko Farm uses aquaponics, a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics, to provide a more sustainable way of growing its products. What's more, it is helping to nurture a fledgling welfare movement by providing jobs for retirees and people with disabilities.
One of the advantages of aquaponics is that it doesn’t require soil, making it well-suited to indoor or small urban spaces. It also uses less water and fertilizer than conventional agriculture, so it leaves a smaller environmental footprint.
The global market for aquaponics cultivation is expected to reach over $10 billion by 2026, according to research firm Report Ocean.
Another significant plus is that aquaponics farms work well with computerized production management systems, making it easier to employ people with disabilities, or the elderly. For this reason, aquaponics is expected to play a key role in an ongoing Japanese government initiative to bring together agriculture and welfare.
Agriko Farm was set up by Yokohama-based company Aquponi on the roof of the Ogawa Coffee Laboratory Shinmachi outlet, one of a chain of Tokyo coffee shops and cafes. As Japan’s first specialist aquaponics firm, Aquponi plans farms and provides farming systems incorporating aquaponics. It also has experience installing farming systems in facilities for people with disabilities across Japan, so is already involved in the bringing together of agriculture and welfare.
Agriko, the company that works with Aquponi to run the farm, was founded by Ryoko Kobayashi, who used to help her family cultivate rice in the northern Japanese prefecture of Niigata. However, they had to stop operations when a family member became ill, and Kobayashi quickly realized the need to help elderly people and those with disabilities work in farming to ensure the industry’s future. She became a government -accredited “technical assistant for linking agriculture and welfare” and subsequently set up Agriko, where she is CEO.
Kobayashi told J-Stories how Agriko Farm gives people with disabilities farming experience, then helps match them up with companies seeking staff.
“We carefully match each person with the right job to ensure that they can keep working for a long time,” she said. “We hope that companies will use this system to promote the employment of people with disabilities.”
Meanwhile, fish and herbs from the rooftop farm feature on the lunch menu of the café on the first floor.
“Another strength is that we can grow and nurture many different ingredients in small batches for the chefs, so there is no waste.”
Translation and editing by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by Agriko
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