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At the intersection of farming and art

Finding new ground and making a bold statement with these innovative farms.

The Museum of Underwater Art is exactly what it sounds like. Situated off the coast of Townsville in Queenstown, Australia, a total of four installations will be submerged come 2021. The first two by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, including a massive greenhouse complete with sculpted trees and gardeners, were unveiled in 2019. Engineered from 165 tonnes of corrosion-resistant stainless steel and pH-neutral cement, the stormproof greenhouse is designed to facilitate free movement of aquatic animals. Hideaways have been integrated into workbenches to allow smaller fish to escape predation.

  • Jason deCaires Taylor

    Underwater art

    The coral greenhouse was assembled part by part by boats and scuba divers.

It’s also an ideal breeding ground for coral, thanks to coral-filled planters surrounding structure. Visitors can observe the aquatic flora and fauna that have inhabited the biomorphic greenhouse, designed to be reclaimed by nature. Other artworks include trees modelled after local plants and children tending to planted coral cuttings. “They are tending to their future, building a different relationship with our marine world,” says Taylor. “Our children are the guardians of the barrier reef.” The second installation, Ocean Siren functions like a coastal mood ring: its colours fluctuate according to the water temperature.

The array of 202 multi-coloured LED lights –powered entirely by solar panels – is visible for miles. Fashioned after the model of a young Wulgurukaba girl holding a Baler shell (an indigenous communication device), the implication is obvious. She’s looking after the lands and seas of her ancestors – and will be the first to toll the bells should things go awry. Farming isn’t just about food. Preserving the natural environment is just as important and Taylor’s artwork demonstrates that.

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Sea Cows

Cows at Floating Farm

The future of farming in an increasingly land-scarce world means thinking smart. Certainly food for thought for Singapore, which wants to hit 30 by 30. In other words, meet 30 per cent of the nation’s nutritional needs by 2030. Quite a tall order when the island nation isn’t freeing up swathes of land for agriculture any time soon.

That’s where good ol’ innovation comes in: think words ending in ‘ponics’ and adjectives straight out of the urban cultivator’s playbook like vertical or urban and even floating. Floating farms aren’t exactly new here. It’s just that we’re more used to farming things on water that, well, belong in the water such as barramundi.

This, of course, makes Rotterdam’s Floating Farm in South Holland unique. Its livestock of choice since May last year has been dairy cows and it is currently looking to expand into chickens right next door in Merwehaven harbour. The farm is the brainchild of Peter and Minke van Wingerden of Beladon, a company specialising in waterborne property, and is proof that land animals could work on floating farms with minimal impact on resources and the environment.

However, as grass doesn’t grow on poop decks, the 35 Meuse-Rhine-Issels cows, a breed native to the region, feed on clippings from nearby fields, beer grains from breweries, bran from mills and vegetables, fruit and bread scraps from local caterers, who get milk as well as yogurt in return. Their manure is used as fertiliser while rainwater settles their drinking needs.

And, for the time being, they still have access to a nearby pasture to stretch their sea legs. The cows are milked on site, with some of the milk heading to the upper level where it’s made into yogurt. From milking and feeding to cleaning, everything is automated. However, as farming on the water is still too expensive to be commercially viable on a large scale, the floating farm mostly remains a glimpse into robot-managed aqua farms of the future.

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Coop de maitre

Casa Wabi Agosto

Take a gander at Kengo Kuma & Associates’ (KKAA) spartan chicken coop at the Casa Wabi Foundation’s art retreat in Mexico. The reason for its existence is simple: the artists wanted eggs with their morning toast. The coop is very much in line with the retreat’s minimalist architectural philosophy. Interlocking wooden boards, laid in a grid-like fashion, create a somewhat paradoxically sheltered yet open space for the poultry to gather and feed.

Using the traditional Japanese technique of shou sugi ban, the wooden boards have been charred black. This preserves the timber, improving its shelf life and making it bug- and weather-resistant. The gridded structure also provides individual resting areas and the gaps in the walls let in plenty of air and sunlight while providing more than enough shade to keep the chickens comfortable.

A courtyard of bricks from Casa Wabi’s ceramics kiln separates the main enclosure from several antechambers, including one for quarantining sick birds and another used for egg packing. It’s not an ultra-efficient battery farm, but it certainly wasn’t thrown together with an “architecture first, chickens second” philosophy. Instead, what we’re seeing is a unique avant-garde, creation that still fulfils the function of a chicken coop.

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