Where will you sell your products?
Please visit our products page, from May 2018 you’ll be able to find out who is stocking our products.
Can I buy products at the farm? Do you have a farm shop?
We do not currently have a farm shop. We are looking into ways we can offer products to taste and sell as part of our tour package. Available soon.
I am a chef/retailer, I am interested in your products, how can I order them?
Brilliant! Please visit our products page and fill in the Restaurant & Retailer form with your requirements, then we’ll call you.
Who does BIGH sell to?
Retailers, fruits and vegetables shops, épiceries, supermarkets, restaurants, catering companies. We have a big diversity in clients, and we are always keen to speak to new types of client.
How much will you produce per year?
Exact product volumes will change based on what varieties we are growing.
- Microgreens: 120,000 units/year
- Tomatoes: 15 tonnes/year
- Potted herbs: 2700 pots/week
- Fish: 35 tonnes/year
Environment & Sustainability
Why do you want to grow food in cities?
“Nurturing cities” leads our initial mission and we believe in making cities more productive and efficient. As well in production of fruits and vegetables as by optimizing empty or unused spaces. Growing food in urban areas benefits from underused resources (energy waste, CO2, rainwater) and BIGH builds with the circular economy in mind. Read more about our vision.
Do you use renewable energy?
We are the cooling tower of the Foodmet building, we take heat from fridges below to grow food and provide refrigeration to the fridges and cold rooms of the market. We get part of our electricity from Abattoir’s solar panels which surround the farm. We capture the sun’s natural energy with the greenhouse while reducing heat island effect, to produce all year round.
Does the farm produce light pollution for the neighbourhood?
LED light is visible but does not glow like sodium lights. We have nightshade from the roller blinds vertically and horizontally. Plants need to sleep a few hours, so we switch off in the middle of the night.
How do you know the farm is not polluted?
Our resident horticulture and aquaculture experts continuously monitor growing conditions to ensure product safety and quality. All growing substrates are sourced from trusted industry suppliers.
For how much of the year do you produce products?
Microgreens, aromatic herbs in pots and fish are produced all-year long while tomatoes are produce about 34 weeks/year.
How do you deal with cold chain?
We avoid long refrigeration times for our products, and try to get them directly from ‘field’ to supermarket or plate.
How is your logistic story in line with your circular economy position?
- We choose to work with an urban logistics company.
- We design the site of the farm for logisticians to be able to come at night when there is no traffic.
- We are studying the possibility of distributing our products while completing other orders. We are constantly evaluating how to be more efficient in terms of kilometers, price and effort.
How do you recover energy from the fridges in the building below?
With our heat pump we take the loss energy of the fridges and we heat our greenhouse and the aquaculture system all the year round.
How do you balance using wildfish feed in aquaponics with your sustainability goals?
We choose first of all sustainable and GMO-free certified pellets today. We are working towards including some insect flours into the fish diet. This is in development. We are constantly evaluating our supplies to get them as sustainable as possible.
Are you really sustainable? What are the environmental benefits you bring?
For the Foodmet building:
- Thermal and solar radiation protection of the building
- Diminishing of the ecological footprint (through heat recovery from the fridges, no more energy loss from cooling and air change, capture of CO2)
- Biodiversity (micro and macro) increase
- Both external gardens and greenhouse reduce the heat island effect
- Commercial use of the rooftop that pays rent
- Real estate valorisation by improved environmental performance and attractiveness
- Marketing force for Foodmet and Abattoir mixed development plan
- Lighthouse for innovation and applied circular economy, puts Abattoir on the international map
- Circular economy demonstration for construction, production and distribution
- through heat recovery and renewable electricity from the building, capture and reduce CO2 emissions
- Highest quality tasty local products are more attractive than long distance tasteless ones
- Center for innovation and food education
- Rainwater recovery from building and greenhouse
- Zero tolerance for antibiotics and pesticides
- No toxic materials used in construction, C2C certified where possible
- No chemical residues from the farm (waste stream)
- Goal to become a zero waste farm for both pisciculture (main European challenge) and horticulture
Why have you started in Brussels?
We are very proud to make Brussels the site of our first farm, it is a city, capital of Europe, where so many debates take place on the future of food, agriculture, aquaculture and sustainability. Brussels has many urban agriculture projects and this makes it a great place to start our journey.
What are the socio-economic benefits you bring?
BIGH creates a diversity of jobs: ones for experts and others with no-experienced people in two industries, aquaculture and horticulture. We offer training for students and young professionals.
We work with two social companies, Atelier Groot Eiland and TRAVIE; to offer both professional training and long-term jobs.
Neighbourhood and integration
The farm offers a valorisation of the neighbourhood image through the marketing of the project.
The two social companies BIGH is working with choose for the BIGH farm workers who are coming from the neighbourhood.
We plan to collaborate with other NGO to make even more links with the neighbourhood in the coming years.
There are other indirect economic benefits with the use of city logistics, company services (IT, cleaning, packaging, e-commerce), food transformation with local entrepreneurs and catering companies to name a few.
How many local jobs have you created?
5 FTE direct and many more indirect locally.
You say you are inclusive and complementary to farmers but when you get a network of farms, will it be the same?
Every BIGH farm will be unique from its position and its technical profile. Product choices will be made based on the farm’s geographical position and preferences of local consumers. Furthermore, the products we grow in each farm will be dependent on waste energy availability, water quality, and light availability. BIGH farms will never be the size of large rural farms, so we can say BIGH farms will always be complementary to local production. BIGH farms are meant to reduce environmental footprint yet to be vibrant place to exchange knowledge, state-of-art technologies and techniques around crops and fish farming. For this reason BIGH is developed to be inclusive within the existing network of farmers, commercial companies it is related to. BIGH aims to inspire both the agriculture and aquaculture sectors for a regional sustainable future food system. As BIGH builds expertise in aquaponics, we will look at partnering with traditional farms to introduce aquaponics there.
Are your products good value? How can you compete with the Abattoir market on your doorstep?
The products of La Ferme Abattoir are indeed not the same price as the ones you can find for the Abattoir market, famous for its discounted and unbeatable prices. BIGH products are made in a sustainable and transparent way. BIGH prices reflect the cost of production, and are similar to our competitors who produce similar quality products.
The link to the neighbourhood is though important to have. BIGH chooses to collaborate through employment with people of the area for sharing its vision for food quality and sustainability. We believe strongly that selling directly products on the site is the future and we will develop that as soon as possible.
What’s your employee social plan? Are they underpaid like in other projects?
BIGH pays a reasonable salary and offers similar benefits and conditions than other Belgian employers. Students can do short unpaid internships, while young professionals are offered longer paid internships.
BIGH employees are passionate about innovation and strive to run the farm as sustainably as possible. Thanks to BIGH’s ambition for developing a network of farms, every team member is challenged to grow in their role and take on more responsibility.
At BIGH we value entrepreneurship, and that shapes every team member.
What impact can BIGH have on the local community?
BIGH partners with local social enterprises such as Atelier Groot Eiland and TRAVIE, providing employment opportunities for the disabled and disadvantaged. BIGH hopes to be a positive impact on Brussels, and a source of pride for the Anderlecht district, bringing good food, green space and a diversity of products.
How can I support BIGH?
If you are interested in investing in BIGH please go to our Investor Page. If you’re a fan of the BIGH project please like our Facebook page and follow our Instagram feed to keep up to date with all things BIGH. If you know some interesting people, partners, investors for BIGH, please e-mail us. There is no volunteering framework yet at BIGH. Subscribe to the newsletter if you want to follow the BIGH’s activities or contact Mathias De Vos
Is BIGH interested in collaborating outside of Belgium?
I would like to partner up with BIGH
If you are a potential partner or sponsor, mail Noémie Benoit.
I would like to work for BIGH, how do I apply?
Thanks for your interest! Please visit our team page to see if we have any positions available.
Are you currently taking on volunteers?
For volunteering we are not yet organised yet it will be soon possible, so keep following us and you will know as soon as it is possible. Thank you for your patience.
Thanks for your interest! Please visit our team page to see if we have any positions available.
Business & Impact
Why do you not offer visits for all school ages?
The Ferme Abattoir cannot receive large groups of people because there is limited space, and it is a working farm. We hope to develop an offering for younger students in the future, we are very sorry for the inconvenience until then.
What is the link with the restaurant on the rooftop?
The restaurant is meant to use farm products and to benefit from the farm’s view with its terrace. The farm and restaurant are envisioned to be a Brussels food destination, to enjoy sun, farm and family as well as having a coffee or tea after a visit at the farm or a pause after doing your shopping at the market.
Abattoir SA is currently searching for an entrepreneur wanting to develop the restaurant space.
Why did you not communicate for a long time?
The development of such an innovative project takes a lot of time and effort. Communicating about something that evolves is difficult to do because a company is judged on its first impression and story. In BIGH’s case, the story is very important and it took time to deliver it. Thank you all for your patience and your support these last years.
Where does your name come from?
BIGH comes from Building Integrated Greenhouses (it is similar to BIPV which stands for building integrated photovoltaic, which are solar panels). BIGH is meant to project the image of an urban greenhouse as a smart, modern, and optimized part of a building.
What does BIGH do?
We are a developer and operator of urban farms integrated to buildings using sustainable materials and resources in the spirit of circular economy. Read more about our mission here.
Why did you start the business?
BIGH was started to improve buildings and the quality of life in cities and it ended up producing food while providing many benefits to both human and its environment. Read more about our history.
How are you financed? Who is behind BIGH?
BIGH Holding is the company which finances BIGH. It is a mix of private and public investors: Lateral Thinking Factory Development, Fidentia Green Buildings, Talence, ECF Farmsystems, Finance.brussels/group SRIB. The Ferme Abattoir is financed by BIGH Holding and a loan from BNP Paribas Fortis.
How do you collaborate with Abattoir and the site masterplan? Which role do you intend to play in this development?
The Ferme Abattoir is the first BIGH farm, its located on top of a new food hall at the Abattoir site in Brussels. The Abattoir site is undergoing a regeneration with the aim of promoting local food and urban agriculture. BIGH offers an innovative epicentre with The Ferme Abattoir and the Abattoir rooftop restaurant with farm view and products. With BIGH leading the way, we can contribute to making the Abattoir the No 1 food destination in Brussels.
Do you have subsidies?
La Ferme Abattoir could not be subsidised as a producer with agriculture NACE code and there is little or no available subsidies for Brussels regional farmers at this stage. BIGH Holding received a small subsidy for consultancy and other entrepreneurship as a company in the Brussels region.
What is the ROI of BIGH? In how many years will you be paid back from the investment?
As a privately-held company, BIGH does not share these details. Thank you for your understanding.
How are you going to share your learnings with other entrepreneurs or professionals?
Urban farms across the world have been either offering their services to help other entrepreneurs or visits to share knowledge and experience. We offer technical visits you can book on the website here.
Why spend money on rooftop greenhouses while there is land available next to the city?
First of all, BIGH believes in the role of urban farming as a tool in the transition for sustainable food: inspiring consumers, stimulating demand for local produce and transparency of production methods.
Secondly, BIGH is promoting the use of buildings in a more productive and efficient way than is the case today; recovering energy, rainwater, CO2 of buildings to reduce ecological footprint and have a great climate impact. Capturing energy loss from buildings or industry is already a major saving, both financially and environmentally.
These two reasons lead BIGH to develop an economic model that offers local employment, high-qualified jobs as well as less qualified jobs in the city as well as bringing life quality in the city.
For all of these reasons our farms are bringing lots of benefits to cities and the society.
Who owns the greenhouses?
La Ferme Abattoir is BIGH’s first investment and we own both the greenhouse and additional equipment that is set on the long leased 4000m2 roof. Other projects will evolve towards co-investments with building owners.
Why do you have partners? Who are your partners?
BIGH chooses professional partners (Koppert Cress, Koppert Biological Systems, Greenyard, Gautier Semences, Tarkett, Derbigum) to benefit from their expertise and experience. Food is a sensitive and serious health business, and so we supplement our knowledge with professional advice. Thanks to our partners we can be at the state-of-art for sustainability from the building integration and materials used in the greenhouse to the packaging.
Is the slaughterhouse image not a problem to link to the farm?
The Abattoir site is indeed a slaughterhouse, and one of few in city centres across Europe. The Abattoir site is also called the “Belly of Brussels” and was protected from redevelopment after WW2. The Abattoir is a landmark in the Brussels region and it is transforming the food production of the future. BIGH is part of this transformation by adding a state of the art production of fish and vegetables. Moreover the Abattoir site is a very important economic employment lung for Brussels. The “manufacture” project of Abattoir masterplan vision is to stay the heart of Brussels new food industry and the sustainable transition.
Aquaponics & Production
What is aquaponics?
It’s a symbiotic combination between aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponic (horticulture substrate-based). Fish water is charged of ammoniac thanks to the dejections of the fish. The biological filter is transforming this ammonium into nitrates. The water becomes fertilizing and will serve to water the crops. There is no to little loss of water in this system. It is a very delicate system because the biological filter is key and is working thanks to micro-organisms.
What is a RAS?
RAS stands for Recirculating Aquaculture System, it’s features are :
- Using 100 times less water than conventional open systems
- Allows for very close control of water quality
- Uses natural methods to filter water and separate waste
- Total control of the system which are always at the optimum for production
- Isolates the production system from local species
- No environmental pollution
- No waste
What are the benefits/advantages of aquaponics?
- Less energy
- Zero tolerance to antibiotics and chemicals
- High quality of products
- Fast and efficient production
- No to little wastewater
- Can be adapted in all sort of places
- Less water than conventional horticulture/aquaculture
- No environmental pollution
What are the drawbacks of aquaponics?
There are some drawbacks to aquaponics:
- Permanent control necessary
- Fragile ecosystem
- Expensive system
- Not adapted to all fish species and crop varieties
Why did you choose the striped bass while aquaponics usually use generally tilapia?
Striped Bass is an estuary fish that can grow both in salt or freshwater. It has a very firm white and tasty flesh. The fish is beautiful and a little different on the market. With its waste free aquaculture system and great care with water and food quality, it is a very attractive fish.
Tilapia works well in some countries and has a very good quality when raised in such systems (see ECF Berlin), the market in Belgium and France is not ready to accept Tilapia as easily due to a bad reputation of some imports.
Are your products organically certified?
Aquaponics grows fruits, vegetables and fish without any possibility to introduce antibiotics, pesticides or chemicals. It grows plants in substrate with the naturally fertilised water from the RAS biofilter. For now it is not included in the classic organic certification standards yet it is being currently studied by the European Commission.
Some of our products are organic certified like the potted aromatic herbs. Other products do not fit in the organic certification standards because they are not grown in the open ground even we follow organic certification standards.
How about pollution in the city?
Pollution is mainly present from the traffic. Particle matters which are both heavy and volatile are issued. The heavy ones do not reach rooftops surfaces while the volatile ones can be found everywhere, even inside our houses. Studies have shown that more volatile particles can be found in the periurban areas or rural areas than in the city because of the wind effects.
Special studies for rooftop farming have been issued by NGO Le Début des Haricots and concentration found in the vegetables and on the leaves have been classified as under the norms, similar to rural products.
Moreover we do not have the problem to have pesticides residues on our cultures.
Although we are following safety and regulations from the regulatory body AFSCA, we keep following recent studies and monitoring of farms.
For these reasons the Ferme Abattoir is safe. City pollution is easily washed from leaves and the city heat serves to create a microclimate in our outdoor garden. Our greenhouse relies mainly on rainwater collection from the glass roof and is filtered, reducing any contamination from pollutants. CO2 concentration is slightly higher in cities, which helps plants to grow. And did you know that there is more biodiversity in city centres than in some of our rural surrounding?
Is taking groundwater really sustainable?
Groundwater is pumped in small quantities from a flowing aquifer. Pumping water in cities has benefits to keep water-tables stable since industry has left city centres. It is difficult for us to use treated mains water as it must be heavily filtered to reach the quality our fish require. We do not deposit water into the ground and there is no risk of contamination. So, yes, taking groundwater in our case is really sustainable.
Do you reject water to the city waste water?
The drum filter rejects some fish water with solids to city waste water when we are not using it for the outdoor garden. In reality this is much cleaner than some of the things people put in their toilets! We intend to reduce this wastewater by using it for other applications.
Why do you use a soil substrate for your tomatoes?
The substrate used for our tomatoes is composed of natural organic materials with mycelium to hold the roots and add biological richness. The plants are fed is through water coming from our aquaculture biofilter and the substrate plays its role for providing a great ecosystem for roots to grow and for the plant to develop itself. So yes, we are having a soil substrate even we are in hydroponics! And we are proud to promote this solution with our partner Greenyard!
What do you put in place for the fish welfare?
A happy fish eats well, grows fast and is delicious. Fish are very sensitive to stress and abrupt changes. At BIGH we created a stress free environment, including the technology to sort fish by size without them leaving the water. We also employ a unique two stage humane slaughtering process which involved stunning the fish and putting them on ice, maintaining quality whilst also maintaining respect for the animal.
- Density is adjusted to the fish natural conditions habitat
- Fish size sorting and grading system for fish well-being
- All fish sorting done in water in order to avoid fish stress
- Lighting mimicking natural sun lighting to avoid fish stress
- Humane slaughtering method (unique in Europe) combining combining stunning and ice
With what do you feed the fish?
Fish are nourished with pellets whose origin is 30% fish from sustainable fishing and 70% vegetal sustainable and non-GMO certified. Special attention is given to have fish food not contributing to overfishing.
Innovative solutions such as insect flour or algae oil are currently being developed.
How do you balance using wildfish feed in aquaponics with your sustainability goals?
Currently we use sustainable and GMO-free certified pellets. We are working towards including some insect flours into the fish diet, this is in development. We are constantly evaluating our supplies to get them as sustainable as possible.
Can I visit the farm?
Yes, we love showing visitors around our working farm! Head to our tours page to book yours here.
Can I come and interview/film/photograph BIGH and the Ferme Abattoir?
If you are a media, please mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to organise a commercial videoshooting or photoshooting, that is possible for a certain price. Please give a description of the purpose, the number of people that will be present, the number of hours you need and the rights of image you need to email@example.com
I am a student and would like to include BIGH in my research.
We have a lot of requests, so please don’t take it personally if we cannot answer you. Send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions. Because we are a small team, we cannot yet give interviews, so please book a visit where you can ask your questions to a BIGH team member.