Urban Stream Innovation is the brainchild of Nick Hermes, a start-up known for developing an ultra-efficient composting technology. Integrated with an aquaponic system in a small greenhouse, the composter allows a micro-farm to be built into a shipping container that can produce fresh, sustainable food on the footprint of a standard parking stall.
Hermes selected Luke’s Corner Kitchen + Bar because it presented itself as an ideal location “I was a customer at Luke’s for a while and [owner] Mark Roberts noticed I was always working on urban farming-related business on my computer,” says Hermes. “Eventually he inquired as to what I was doing, and expressed interest in the micro-farm.” Hermes encouraged Roberts to place the micro-farm in his parking lot, but Roberts was concerned it wouldn’t be financially viable – and the seed for Urban Stream Innovation was planted. “We realized we needed to get firm numbers to help Roberts make the decision,” he said. “So we started researching feasibility of the Urban Stream Innovation.” Through his waste audit of Luke’s, Hermes found that about 63 percent of the restaurant’s waste was organic – and therefore could be composted. He also found that it was costing Luke’s $600 a month to have all that waste hauled away. Compounding the problem, the City of Vancouver will require in 2015 that restaurants and commercial businesses divert 70 percent of their organic waste from landfills. Commercial businesses are not yet required to separate their organic waste, but there is a growing awareness.
Hermes knew that there was an opportunity to find a solution to reduce those costs and turn that waste into a fresh local source of greens for the restaurant. He put together a team and collectively they founded Urban Stream Innovation – and then got to work on transforming the concept into a working business. But to turn the business plan into action Urban Stream needed funding. Fortunately they received a $25,000 research grant from the National Research Council Canada to develop a heat and nutrient recovery bioreactor and placed third in Vancity’s Good Money® Impact Venture Challenge.
For Roberts, supporting Urban Stream was an opportunity to reduce his waste hauling costs and support an innovative urban farming project that truly closes the waste loop by producing between 10-30 kg of fresh leafy greens and herbs weekly. The Urban Stream micro-farm is designed to compost 200-300 kg of organic waste weekly. Since this exceeds what Luke’s Corner Kitchen + Bar produces, Hermes is looking for another local restaurant to partner with close by that would like to compost their organic waste and to whom they could sell greens as well.
Urban Stream demonstrates the potential for micro-farms to be integrated into the urban landscape. It also shows how micro-farms can supplement traditional agriculture – and that’s sure to appeal to the urban food lover while also helping to solve a challenge facing restaurants.