It continues with the presentation of the jury of our zdi Science League. Already came to International Women's Day Jenny Kociemba and Elita Wiegand and reported on the contribution that competitions such as the zdi-Science League make to MINT girls' work. This time, Gwendolyn Paul from the zdi regional office will be speaking to Stefan and Philipp Lindner, the founders of the Bonn Indoor Farm UrbanGreen. In addition to the topic of urban farming, the conversation also deals with your task as a juror at the Science League.
Gwendolyn Paul: I'm glad we can talk to you both today! I would like to start with a short introduction: Who are you and how do you get into the Science League?
Stephen Lindner: My name is Stefan and I am part of UrbanGreen. I'm currently studying geography for my master's degree. During the pandemic, Philipp came up with the idea of getting into indoor farming. We were very happy about the request to join the Science League as a juror. Because for us it's a good chance to expand our own network, but also to see what's going on with the younger generation in relation to urban farming.
Philip Lindner: I'm Philipp and the second founder of UrbanGreen. I'm studying physics and I'm just about to finish my studies. During my studies, the desire arose not only to do something with physics, but rather with plants. And since I live in a city, the idea of urban farming and indoor farming came up. I also found the request to be part of the Science League jury very interesting. It's a whole new experience to be part of such a jury and I'm very excited to see what else awaits us there and how it will develop further.
What is urban farming and what does it have to do with STEM?
Gwendolyn Paul: Can you explain: What is urban farming or indoor farming anyway? What's behind it?
Stephen Lindner: Urban farming is still a relatively undefined term that summarizes different things. Basically, it is about the production of food in an urban or peri-urban environment. Unlike urban gardening, for example, where the focus is more on the social aspects of getting to know people and gardening together, urban farming focuses on the production of food. Indoor farming is the part of it that we run. It's about the food production in closed rooms, for which preferably already existing areas are used.
In our case, we would like to move into an old bunker that has been empty for many years and reactivate the area in order to counteract the use of land in agriculture. Because at some point there will no longer be enough land to feed everyone on earth. In addition to indoor farming, vertical farming will also be part of urban farming, where, for example, high-rise buildings are planted on the walls.
Gwendolyn Paul: Then the question arises for me: How do a physicist and a geographer come to urban farming? In terms of your degree, it's not the most obvious step, is it?
Philip Linder: Not necessarily, that's true. But in physics, you also deal a lot with logical thinking about the functioning of processes. This gave me the idea that many things in food production could be made more efficient and environmentally friendly, which can be implemented very well with urban farming and indoor farming. You can produce much more locally and, in addition to long delivery routes, you can also save a lot of packaging waste. Water consumption can also be significantly reduced. In addition, I have been dealing with self-sufficiency for a long time as a hobby. In the country it's pretty obvious, you have a couple of raised beds and a field. But how do you do that in the city? The intersection with the course was then to design everything as efficiently as possible and to think through these processes logically.
Which "future skills" are required for urban farming?
Gwendolyn Paul: Does that mean STEM skills aren't that bad in this area?
Stephen Lindner: Absolutely not! Such an indoor farm can be automated, controlled. The lighting is controlled, the watering is controlled automatically. Air values are checked in order to be able to improve the results in plant and mushroom cultivation. And so you can combine farming with computer science. In my geography bachelor's degree, I dealt a lot with urban geographies. But global nutrition and population development are also very important topics in geography. When Philipp came around the corner with the idea of an indoor farm, I immediately thought it made a lot of sense because I had already dealt with the topic of urban nutrition a bit. And so we found a station wagon that might not look like urban farming at first glance.
Gwendolyn Paul: What do you think, what are the future skills that you need to get started in urban farming? You have just shown how diverse the topics are that play into it: from physics and geography, computer science, technology, but also human development, society, area...
Stephen Lindner: I think the most important thing is that you think in a solution-oriented way. So that you can recognize problems and are motivated to find approaches to make the processes better and more efficient. A lot should also be about looking at the topic holistically because it is made up of so many areas. I could imagine that the area of automation in particular could be taught well in zdi courses.
Gwendolyn Paul: I also read that you have developed your own cultivation technique. How did you get into it?
Philip Lindner: Basically, we tried many different things and recombined things that already exist in a different form. The work steps, the methods and the equipment that we use already existed – just not in this combination. For example, we rely on circular economy in the indoor farms, which is not yet common in many farms today. A big part of this is a worm farm, where we compost our organic waste, which then provides nutrients for our plants. And so we gradually combined everything possible to have the best possible cycle in which we can grow the plants efficiently.
Urban farming in the zdi Science League
Gwendolyn Paul: In your work there are already some links to the zdi-Science League. Can you bring your experience from founding the company to good use in your jury work?
Philip Lindner: Yes, in any case. We founded ourselves in May 2021 and it took us two years to set up our prototype farm and understand all the processes.
Stephen Lindner: And if we now look at the processing of the questions from the Science League: You need energy, you need energy storage, how do you want to run a farm with it? Based on our experience, we were able to say relatively quickly which approaches would work and which would not.
Gwendolyn Paul: Do you identify with the teams?
Philip Lindner: So far, it has only been about the topics of energy generation and energy storage. The actual indoor farming will only come in the next few days. I'm definitely curious how it will be then. And there will definitely come a point somewhere where I will discover parallels.
Gwendolyn Paul: Are there solutions in the teams that you are particularly interested in or that you find particularly promising?
Philip Lindner: When it comes to energy storage, I found a few approaches very interesting. For example, when it came to battery storage, many teams opted for a regular battery. However, one team resorted to a capacitor storage system. That's innovative. With the team, I'm very curious to see how they will progress with the energy storage method in the next few days.
Gwendolyn Paul: How does the cooperation and the exchange in the jury work? Are there any insights and perspectives that are new?
Stephen Lindner: I think this is going pretty well. There have already been several meetings and jury sessions where we were able to exchange ideas. Above all, we are not at all familiar with the pedagogical point of view, which is definitely something new, something different. Put yourself back into yourself 15 years ago and think: Would I have come up with this solution back then? How would I have done that? What solutions have the teams now found? That's interesting.
Philip Lindner: Of course we think the topic is super cool, because that's exactly what we're dealing with. I also believe it makes sense to continue with the Science League. The topic of urban and indoor farming in particular is very complex and at school you don't necessarily come into contact with a topic that is so complex. So that's a skill that teams can learn here: recognizing how complex some systems are, what all the planning needs to include, and how it all ties together.
Why are formats like the Science League important?
Gwendolyn Paul: The zdi Science League is currently in the pilot season and is taking place for the first time. What do you find special about the format and do you think that a sequel is worthwhile?
What's next for Urban Green?
Gwendolyn Paul: Can you already say something about the next step in UrbanGreen?
Stephen Lindner: The next step for us will be moving to the new area in the old bunker. Negotiations are currently underway with the city as the landlord and then the construction of the farm will follow. A lot of material has to be brought into the bunker, a lot has to be set up, wired, tested. And then we can start big.
Philip Lindner: The bureaucratic mills may be turning slowly, but we will definitely keep at it. Because we are of the opinion that a lot still has to happen in the urban and indoor farming sector if certain problems are to be solved in the future and crises avoided. That's why we're definitely going to continue, even if it takes a little longer.
Stephen Lindner: We also notice that we are among the first to deal with the subject of indoor farming at all. As a result, there is still a lack of processes in many places, especially in the offices, where uncertainties are often encountered. That's why it's really great that the topic is already being dealt with in the Science League. In this way, eighth graders come into contact with such an important topic as food security and a young industry. I think it is absolutely sustainable and sensible to raise awareness of the topic early on.
Gwendolyn Paul: Do you see yourselves as role models or pioneers?
Philip Lindner: I don't know if I would really call us that because we're still at the very beginning. If you asked me again in five years, I would probably say "Yes!" say.
Gwendolyn Paul: Then we'll talk again in five years! Thank you very much for the interview. So shall we see each other at the Science League finals?
Philip Lindner: Yes, we definitely want to be there!
Stephen Lindner: Exactly! And we would also like to thank you for the interview and we are excited to see how the Science League will continue!
A summary of the full conversation can be seen here: zdi-Science League: The jurors Stefan and Philipp Lindner in an interview