This Urban Mushroom Farm Wants to Start a Biological Revolution

Manchester is known for its key role in Britain’s Industrial Revolution but in the future, the city may be known for championing a new era—the Biological Revolution, a change which could hold the key to a more sustainable food system.

That’s if Vincent Walsh has his way. An expert in aquaponics, hydroponics, fungi, and agroforestry, Walsh has just launched Manchester’s first inner city mushroom farm.

“I spent time in Ethiopia developing the Agroforestry Research Trust, looking at complexities in forest systems,” Walsh explains. “For me, it’s really interesting to think about how forest systems work and how urban societies can learn from them.”

Of course, urban farms are nothing new but what’s different about Walsh’s Biospheric Studio is the combination of aquaponics and hydroponics to make a closed ecosystem. In other words, the production of food will be completely self-sustainable.

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The Biospheric Studio, an urban farming project in Manchester. All photos by the author.

In essence, he and the Biospheric Studio team are exercising new methods of food production that could fundamentally alter the way we access food in inner city areas.

Walsh describes the mushroom farm side of the Studio as “hyperlocal.” More than just local farm, the team aims to direct the benefits of local mushroom production back into the community.

“Diversity gives it its real strength. So I thought, OK, how do you create a biospheric methodology within hyperlocalised contexts?” says Walsh. “You can’t do that in this city at the moment because we’re just too unconnected. But when you start to develop it on a smaller scale, you can do it.”

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Mushrooms grown in the Biospheric Studio.

After previewing at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival this month, the farm will take a permanent home in the city centre and supply local restaurants with organic shiitake mushrooms, going from farm to fork within 24 hours.

Waste from the farm is being used as a nutrient for a forest garden in the Blackfriars area of Salford, just north of Manchester. The garden is a managed forest ecosystem informed by Walsh’s years of studying forest systems in Africa.

“When we go to space, we are the most sustainable we’ve ever been,” says Walsh. “In space travel, they circulate 98 percent of their waste. Now, if cities could achieve just half of that, we would be highly sustainable and very ecologically sound.”

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Inside the Biospheric Studio’s mushroom farm.

There’s more to the biological revolution than just mushroom farming. The Studio is also holding a series of educational events and Walsh has hopes to create income from the project.

“We’re creating these systems, developing economy around it, and employing people,” says Walsh. “Through the Biospheric Studio, the idea now is to create these systems and over the next five years pull in no less than a £5 million turnover.”

No pressure, then.

Manchester isn’t often seen as the country’s “greenest” city, so I asi why Walsh didn’t launch his project somewhere with a more developed ecological infrastructure.

“We’re still in our infancy. You can feel it now,” he tells me. “You can feel something happening in Manchester. It’s just great to feel like I’m doing something in my own city. We are starting to envision what Manchester could be and in basic terms, that’s a more sustainable, liveable city.”

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The Biospheric Studio’s mushroom farm in Manchester city centre.

Then, of course, there’s the city’s revolutionary past.

“No one thinks of Manchester as a main biological city in the world, just like in the 1900s when Marx wanted to come to Manchester to see what was going on following the Industrial Revolution,” adds Walsh. “We need to re-energise that thinking but within a different biological infrastructure.”

In the 18th century, it was cotton. Tomorrow, maybe Manchester will be known for its mushrooms.