Bento Lab is a DNA analysis laboratory created by Bethan Wolfenden and Philipp Boeing. The duo are currently in their first production run of the first affordable DNA laboratory after it successfully passed beta testing. With backgrounds in Biochemistry and Computer Science they are seeking to bring DNA testing into the public sector, allowing anyone to conduct their own simple DNA analysis with the use of the lab.
The beauty of the design is its compact size and accessibility. With the lab measuring no more than the average size of a laptop, you could literally take your lab with you. This is a game changer for the world of science. As someone that last conducted a scientific experiment in secondary school, the world of laboratories, DNA testing and white coats has seemed a very closed of and inaccessible space, one reserved for only the highly intellectual. Bento Lab brings this world into everyday accessibility. With the rise of makers spaces, DIY and opensource we are seeing a transition from these disciplines being reserved for the technically trained to an open space for collaboration and cross disciplinary work. The more transparency we see through these sectors the greater chance for public engagement and understanding, potentially leading to the possibility of a more inclusive community.
Citizen science and the maker movement was an important source of inspiration for Bethan and Philipp, who were running hands-on biotechnology workshops in schools and community centers and were becoming frustrated at the lack of accessible hardware for these events. After taking an initial mock-up of the lab to a maker festival in Rome in 2013 and receiving positive feedback they realized this concept had depth and needed to be scaled, bringing the use of a DNA laboratory to the many.
As in keeping with the accessibility this lab will bring to science, a proportion of the funding they raised for their first production run was via Kickstarter. Running this campaign meant that the public and educational institutions could donate to the cause, or pre-order their own Bento Lab.
What is Bento Lab exactly?
‘Bento Lab is the first complete DNA laboratory, suitable for a beginner to a professional. It comes with a PCR thermocycler, a centrifuge and a gel electrophoresis box and power supply with blue LED transillumination – all controlled by an intuitive interface. And with an A4 footprint that fits into any laptop-sized bag, Bento Lab can travel wherever your science goes.’
For our first #openhouse of 2018 we welcomed our fellow urban agricultural mavericks into the lab to hear how urban ag is impacting cities and communities around the globe. With urbanisation on the rise and our growing concerns for the current food systems in place we are seeing technology set to play a larger role. With this increasing move from countryside to city our relationships to our food sources are becoming jeopardised and as a result people are turning their hand to growing for themselves, finding unique and smart ways to grow within the city. We heard from our green fingered friends in New York and Shanghai, discussing how our cities are growing for the future and how small change is taking place across the globe.
We heard from Agritecture – an urban agriculture consultancy based in New York and we also spoke to AgTech X, a makers space based in Brooklyn creating opportunities and space for designers and makers to build an urban agriculture community.
Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder of Agritecture, showed us different examples of urban agriculture throughout the city, ranging from low tech community based projects to high tech commercial ventures.
We looked at case studies of these different typologies, focusing on 5 New York based projects:
Edenworks – a commercial vertical aquaponic growing system.
Each of these examples have varying levels of success and Henry discussed the urban agriculture impact categories that they measure projects against – looking at success more holistically and how it impacts not only on an economic level. The categories we looked at are:
Aesthetics – does it attract people? Is it an enjoyable experience?
Social – does the farm engage the community? does it improve food justice and equality?
Economic – How much yield does the farm producer? does it create jobs and revenue?
Ecological – does it encourage biodiversity? does it help to manage rain and storm water
Health – Is it providing fresh food for those that need it? Is it providing stress relief and a sanctuary from urban living?
It was a comforting insight to hear that not everyone measures success on ‘growth’ and that sometimes the project with the most impact are not the most economically minded.
The discussion of low tech versus high tech urban farming was another interesting point. With many people joining the urban agriculture movement keen to use high tech smart methods, such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics, soil based farming can often be overlooked, despite it’s many benefits. Whilst high tech farming and controlled growing environments can result in food security and utilise precious space these methods take time to perfect and the energy consumption can be huge. They also may not provide the local community with sometimes much needed jobs and the biodiversity we all need to bring back to our cities.
We also heard from Ricky Stephens, co-founder of AgTech X, a co-working space focused on the intersection of urban agriculture, technology and sustainability. Based in Brooklyn, AgTech X is creating a working community space that also runs classes and workshop for the public to engage with. As we are finding with Green Lab it is becoming increasingly important for these spaces to exist, not only as a space for play, test and experiment with new ideas, but also to create a dialogue between the local community and those working and growing within the city. Green Lab and AgTech X are facing similar hurdles in sustaining this concept, looking for a permanent space where the ideas can grow and for that all important funding to sustain the project.
We also heard from Andy Garcia – a product design engineer and founder of Domosfarms – based in Shanghai.
Whilst New York has been a big player in the urban agriculture scene from the beginning we hadn’t heard much in the way of China’s involvement and Andy gave us an interesting insight into the urban ag community developing in shanghai and also the general agricultural issues that China is currently facing.
When Andy first moved to shanghai 8 months ago he found that he not only couldn’t drink the tap water but he couldn’t cook with it due to the heavy metals found in the water. These heavy metals are a result of china’s mining and processing industries. These metals cant be filtered by the body, resulting in an increased chance of cancer and disease when consumed. Not only are these heavy metals found within the water systems but also within the food grown and produced.
With this concern Andy was keen to start producing his own food and he started to build his first hydroponics system. With the success of his first system he garnered interest from others keen to produce their own food and is now in the process of creating two open source projects for those wishing to build their own hydroponic systems and produce their own food.
China came quite late to the urban agriculture movement, with neighboring countries of Japan and Korea way ahead of them. this was partly due to their large agriculture industry producing plenty of food but in recent years, with increased urbanisation and fears of both food security and food safety the need to explore urban agriculture has increased.
The safety of the food produced has come into question, with the entire food system now possibly contaminated from China’s industries people are now demanding safer food.
China is addressing this problem by investing in land all over the world, having brought areas in Africa, America and Australia. They are also looking to architectural developments to solve their problems with a current project being built on the outskirts of Shanghai. Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District is being developed to include vertical farming systems such as hydroponics and aquaculture, whilst also providing research and public outreach to the community.
Our next #openhouse will be on Thursday 22nd February, make sure you sign up here.
Jon Katona, Green Labs resident Kombucha specialist is now fermenting and brewing his own Kombucha here in the lab.
Kombucha is raw fermented tea. The sugar-tea solution is fermented by bacteria and yeast commonly known as SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). Although its usually made with black tea, Kombucha can also be made with many other types of tea, or even coffee. These ingredients are left to ferment in a warm environment for a period of time, becoming a delicious, refreshing, nutrient dense drink.
Green Lab has been brewing its own Kombucha for the past 6 months and we’re keen to share how simple and straight forward it can be to ferment your own strain of tea and get creative with flavouring.
With the increasing concern with our own bacteria and maintaining a healthy gut Kombucha has grown in popularity. Fermenting foods in order to keeps stores during the winter is an age old technique and along the way our ancestors discovered that this technique also aided their health. In more recent years and our reliance on a fridge/freezer the need to ferment and preserve our fresh food in the same way lessened. With this we not only lost an understanding of seasons but we neglected our gut health. We are now starting to re-appreciate how vital a varied diet with the addition of fermented foods can be, with many seeking out easy pro-biotic boosts such as Kombucha.
The health benefits from fermented foods are plentiful from help with nutrient absorption, vitamin synthesis, breaking down proteins, alkalizing pH, restoring homeostasis, boosting immunity, and producing immunoglobulins. The process enables the nutrients to be more easily absorbed by our bodies, allowing us to work less and benefit more.
We hosted our first workshop last weekend at the lab. The event started with a tasting session, trying some punchy freshly brewed Kombucha and raspberry puree before diving into the deep end, learning about the drinks restorative, detoxifying and adaptive properties. Their were tastings of live ‘booch’ through the different fermentation stages, which gave the class a sense of the flavour evolution throughout the process – from sweet to tart as the brew matures, right through to extremely potent and versatile Kombucha vinegar. They tasted bottle-aged Kombucha flavoured with ingredients from fiery chilli, sasperilla root, rosemary and schizandra berry. Everyone was then given a SCOBY starter kit to start brewing their own concoctions at home as well as some of their own personally flavoured brew.
If you are interested to learn more about Kombucha and how easy it can be to make yourself, sign up to one our workshops to kick start your fermentation journey.
Jon will be hosting his next Kombucha workshop here at the lab – ‘learn to ferment and make your own Kombucha at Green Lab’ on Saturday 27th January, buy tickets here.
He will also be hosting ‘Learn to brew Kombucha with Green Lab’ at Makerversity as part of their Material Explorations program. For the third part of the series they are presenting Pharma Foods, exploring the world of synthetic biology and discussing how our eating habits are set to change. With progress into lab grown food, and ethical decisions, Kombucha represents how our search for health can also look to the past.
‘Learn to brew Kombucha with Green Lab’ will be held at Makerversity, Somerset House on Saturday 10th February, buy tickets here.
We now have a fully functioning vertical farm in the Lab employing a tower growing system using aquaponics.
With the delivery of the mint and fish our vertical farm is now fully up and running and we can share with you how and why you should have one too.
We are growing mint in our vertical farm and using an aquaponic system that works with fish, however the basics are fully adaptable to suit your own needs, with the ability to grow a host of various herbs.
Ed who built the system for us explains the basics of how it works –
‘The idea of the vertical wall was that it will fit in a small space and it’s a modular system that can be easily increased in size by adding more wall structures. The design behind it has been left open – I did this partly as an educational piece, it explains itself to the viewer, and can be easily replicated. The system could fit in a school or an office space and would allow you to grow fresh herbs and vegetables.
The system is aquaponic – it’s a circular system – you feed the fish which in turn poo, the bacteria then converts the ammonia in the fish poo into nitrates which are absorbed by the plants and used as nutrients, whilst cleaning the water before returning this to the fish tank.
The fact it’s a modular system means that it can be easily adapted – you can even run the system without fish, turning it into a hydroponic system instead, by adding nutrients to the water instead of using the fish poo.’
Grow Wild is the UK’s biggest wild flower planting initiative brought to us by Kew Gardens. As we grow more concerned with the future of our wildlife and our fragile ecosystems in danger of being disrupted we are finding that small groups of people are fighting back with responses as simple as planting native flowers and encouraging wildlife back into their gardens.
Grow Wild is encouraging communities to take back their green spaces and spread wild flower seeds. Having lost 97% of our wild flower fields since 1970 this initiative is extremely important in protecting our natural spaces.
As part of the initiative Grow Wild has now launched their community funding opportunities for more people to get involved, find out more below.
HOW CAN YOU TAKE PART
‘Grow Wild, is excited to launch our new community project funding for 2018. We are awarding funding of £2,000 or £4,000 to community groups that want to bring people together through activities that connect their community and celebrate UK native wild flowers, plants and/or fungi.
Do you have an interesting idea for involving your group or local community in a project. Will it capture people’s attention and connect everybody through activities focused on the creative transformation of an area where they live and spend time? Click here to read all about the funding opportunity. Make sure you download the guidance document and read it fully. It tells you everything you need to know about who can apply, the criteria for funding and the process for completing an application.
Grow Wild is here to help and advise groups along the way. We have dedicated Engagement Managers working across the UK to help guide your thinking and develop your project idea. Contact information can be found in the guidance document.’
Green Lab are very pleased to be hosting the two day annual British Aquaponics Association Convention on the 8th & 9th December 2017.
The annual convention serves as a knowledge sharing and networking gathering of the Aquaponics Sector. Connecting participants with latest aquaponics industry updates, initiatives, resources and tools.
It is focused on disseminating state of the art technology and research, market trends, key challenges and showcasing inspirational initiatives and face-to-face networking. The convention provides networking towards the initiation of business collaborations, demonstration projects, technology partnerships and open source data sharing as well as actively matchmaking synergies and partnerships to shape this emergent industry.
Friday 8th December – Aquaponics Training Workshop 10.00 – 16.00
This takes place at Green Lab and includes a delicious lunch
Saturday 9th December – Main convention 09:00 – 17:00
The convention will cover many aspects of aquaponics including exciting projects and people emerging in the sector incl. Paul Bavister (Flanagan Lawrence) and Fred Labbe (Expedition) invite you to explore their World Architecture Forum Shortlisted Aquaponics Proposal. A look at 2017 the state-of-the-art in research + poster competition and presentations. Catching up with the latest on fish health challenges for UK aquaponics and on compliance with CEFAS, and exploring a key theme of ‘Feed’.
Tickets range from £55 to £300 – there are a limited number available, please book early to avoid disappointment. Find out more about the convention and REGISTER FOR TICKETS
The BAQUA annual conferences aim to:
• facilitate knowledge and resource sharing across the network
• enable members to overcome specific operational issues through access to specific information and expert guidance
• introduce innovations and the state-of-the-art in research and practice from the UK and beyond
• provide a high-level training opportunity for practitioners
• make aquaponics more accessible to entry-level practitioners
We don’t like waste. In fact we are actively trying to eliminate or recycle everything that we grow, farm or produce at Green Lab – whether its eating the food we grow, recycling the cardboard we receive or composting left over food from the lab.
Over the past few weeks Green Lab has been working along side a UCL researcher to develop a programme of research focused predominately on composting and bio-digestion systems.
In late August we participated in an event hosted by UCL at Hackney Wick, Grow: a kitchen & creative space, with a community of London narrow boat users. Exploring the practicalities of composting toilets and the human factors involved in using, emptying and composting.
From late September 2017, we’ll be working alongside a small team of Msc and PhD researchers from University College London – Environmental Engineering, on a project exploring the transformation of ‘humanure’ – yes, that’s the organic matter we produce that is typically mixed with clean drinking water and flushed through a complex piping system to large sewage processing systems – to safe and sustainable products.
Working with the narrow boat community and an on-site system at Green Lab the research project will explore the human factors in designing these systems, and the end use of fertiliser for leafy greens and hydroponic plant growth.
We’ll be using a Kildwick system (generously donated by Colin Ives) at Green Lab and inviting all our early stage startups to participate.
The agricultural composting project will transform mixed organic matter including food, leaves, dead organic mater and human organic media. We’ll be open sourcing all of our findings and naturally sharing the outcome of the project over the coming months.
The project is being lead by Eve MacKinnon, one of the Green Lab team and PhD Researcher in Safe Sanitation Management.
What is composting?
Compost is a key ingredient in organic farming. At the simplest level, the process of composting requires making a heap of wet organic matter known as green waste (leaves, food waste) and waiting for the materials to break down into humus after a period of weeks or months.
Join our hardy group urban farmers and agritech volunteers from the 25th September 2017 to build a number of growing projects in the Lab. We’re looking for 8 volunteers to offer their enthusiasm in urban agriculure to help build a number of exciting projects in the lab; from a small scale fish farm, edible plant vertical garden to a food composting system.
We’ll provide the inspiration and help you learn about different agricultural and growing systems – all you need is an enthusiastic curiosity about urban farming, and up to 8 hours of free time during the week (ideally Monday – Saturday).
We’ll be building the systems indoor and outdoor at our site in Bermondsey. If this sparks your interest and you’d like to find out more register on our Google Form.
Deadline for volunteer applications 18th September 2017.
Aquaponics, algae, edible plants, hydroponics, microgreens, insects or mushrooms… take your pick, there is space at Green Lab to grow all of these.
From September 18th we’ll be offering six urban farming residency spaces in the lab for individuals to grow their own food projects. Each resident will have access to a grow bay in Green Lab to farm their own food related project, whether you want install a small scale aquaponics pilot, create an edible plants display or just grow that basil for your pesto.
Green Lab growing bays provide just enough space for small scale projects for individuals, schools or early stage urban agriculture startups. You’ll be able to experiment with growing habitats, lighting and different growing media – they are a blank slate.
Live projects in our growing bays.
Corn and peas growing hydroponically in Coir
Aquaponic chilli and spinach with Red Comets
Spirulina growing in 15 litre upcycled water cooler bottles
We only ask you don’t bring any pests or diseased plants into the lab – we’ll help you get started, get growing and learn about urban agriculture. Use of the lab will be free for the first 3 months, after which it will be £30 p/month for the bay.
You’ll need some basics like a grow tray, maybe a light, growing medium or maybe a fish tank – it’s up to you what grow or farm, but we’ll help you get started. You can either bring your own kit or rent from the lab. We offer subsidised rates for students and educational bodies.
In a partnership with Inspire, a Hackney based charity, Green Lab is to teach KS2 primary school children on the basics of urban farming and sustainability supporting the charity and their STEM-based ‘iDiscover’ programme.
Green Lab are hosting a series of educational hands-on workshops over the coming months combining the principles of recycling, plant biology, hydroponics, microgreens and creative drawing. The sessions are hosted inside Green Lab’s dedicated event space designed for messy workshops surrounded by leafy greens and small scale demo agriculture systems.
Over 90 minute workshop the children learn how something as simple as a 500ml water bottle can be turned into a minature farm for microgreens, using coir, perlite, knitting wool and a choice of two seed types. Combining this with an art exercise the KS2 children create animal faces for their bottles, with the fully grown microgreens appearing as ‘hair’ to complete the session.
Children have a chance throughout the sessions to sample different microgreens and learn about the agriculture projects taking place in the Green Lab.
The workshops are part of a broader educational programme Green Lab is offering for local schools in London ranging from simple microgreen workshops to full aquaponic system installations for UK school gardens.