Showcasing urban farming using modern cultivation techniques in a public space in Heidelberg
Organisation : Aponix vertical barrel, Heidelberg , Germany

Showcasing soil-less urban farming as an initiator of local food production and distribution combining permaculture activities (will be done by NaBu Germany on the same spot) and modern soilless cultivation methods through citizen engagement/co-creation establishing a local food-network/food hub. The idea is to show technical innovation in an urban hands-on social context and educate citizens about material flows (circular economy principles) and the impact of local food with regard to freshness and varieties (=quality and nutrition) and the difference with regard to the established value chains (mainly through supermarkets) in terms of resource footprint.

Agendas addressed
Public space
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Implement sustainable procurement principles
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation

Heidelberg and its sustainability subsidiary IBA Heidelberg have and are engaged in a larger conversion projects in the Heidelberg region. They signed a LOI to participate and support with providing an open space in the city (called Common Ground) to set up a food hub within a EU Horizon 2020 project called CitiFoodPlus. The grant was rejected because it did not address the SDGs enough. But still the planning and integration was relatively advaced at the point in time of the rejection, so the involved citizens and local players think about doing the planned project anyways. Supporting our project in Heidelberg would help setup the necessary cultivation area and provide a signal to still engage and participate and learn aboutz urban farming from the perma culture side and the moder hydroponic side in one public spot.

In Action

The designated area, the Common Ground space in Heidelberg is a public part that is currently being developed and will be accessible by early 2020. The area is an area roughly 30m by  by 30m large where the city council invests in infrastructure like water lines, a shed with lockers to store materials and tools etc. NaBu Germany is already comitted on 50% of the area showcasing permaculture in a participatory raised bed gardening setup investing their own funds for that. The idea of aponix vertical barrel, a startup from Heidelberg was to use the other 50% of the area to show the other side of hydroponic edible plant production also in a participatory setup. The idea is to engagen both usually technically opposing groups to share tools and the space but also learn from each other over the duration gardening the area together and organizing participatory events also with schools and other workshops (for example for doing bokashi compost at home or grow microgreens during winter etc) around production, hyperlocal distribution and consumption of the food.


The active players from both the permna culture/soil based gardening world and the soilles hydroponic world see the real innovation not in their own knowledge and actions in their own field, but in the participatory application and mutually open inspiration and exploration next to each other including all the social interaction between running the place, organizing education and events but also just tastings of the products like tea/infusion, wheatgrass smoothie or pesto sessions. The expectation is a deeper understanding of the citizen and consumer about the effects of his consumption habits on his own well being and the footprint in terms of planetary resources with the greater goal that participants become ambassadors of what they learnt and multiply also by adapting their consumtion patterns accordingly.


In a greater context the idea with the participatory approach is that the project will also have impact on local policies and the acceptance of goal like growing 10% of consumed food for the city locally and have at least 20% of it affordable. It will also spark the interest and engagement of other food related projects like reducing food waste or opening more managed distribution spots with local products or models like CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture, SoLaWi / Solidarische Landwirtschaft in German). Heidelberg is an ideal spot and at the ideal point in time where it is ready for maximum impact for such projects.

Challenges and lessons learned

It will be a challenge to lure participants out to the field. It is easy once people who do not own a garden and know the taste and texture of a freshly harvested and consumed special edible plant. This usually explanins it by itself having still all vitamins and secondary metabolites availble in a leaf of mustard green, spinach or the like. It is also eye opening to understand the abundance of varieties of each cultivar that can be made available through such a much shorter value chain compared to the supermarket.

CitiFood Background


ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

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79098 Freiburg

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19



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