EU-funded eco market becomes symbol of circular economy in Brussels

Urban farm on the rooftop of l'Abattoir market in Anderlecht, Brussels. [Melvin Kobe]

This article is part of our special report EU in my region.

L’Abattoir, one of the biggest urban markets in Europe built in an old slaughterhouse, could well be seen as a symbol of the circular economy as it has become a source of income for the poor while promoting sustainable farming on its rooftop.

Every weekend, the Abattoirs of Cureghem buzz like a huge honeycomb, from early morning until late afternoon. The smells of flowers, herbs, spices, pickles, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables are in the air while customers wander around scanning products.

The market is located in an old slaughterhouse built in 1890 in the heart of Anderlecht, one of the southern districts of Brussels. It is now filled with dozens of mobile stalls, where buyers can find plants, food, clothes, shoes, rugs, cosmetics, electrical appliances and even live animals at low prices.

Thanks to an investment of more than €7 million from the European Regional Development Fund, l’Abattoir can now also count an area of sedentary traders: Foodmet. Visitors can find meat, fish, fruits and vegetables there, as well as nuts, olives, herbs or other fresh products.

The 12,000 square meter bazaar is at the heart of a disadvantaged multicultural neighbourhood, “hence the importance of economic activities on the site”, explains Geneviève Planchard, Communications Officer with the Brussels Regional Civil Service.

Green economy to boost growth

The Abattoir is far more than just a market but a symbol of circular economy in Brussels. The EU funding has also enabled the building of one of the largest aquaponics urban farm in Europe, with an area of about 4,000 m2, on the rooftop of Foodmet.

The aquaponic technology is based on a combination of fish farming and fruit & vegetable, herbs, juvenile plants, mini tubers and microgreens production along with more traditional vegetables. Plants feed themselves with water enriched by fish excrement that works as fertiliser.

The farm is divided in two and includes 2,000 m2 of horticultural greenhouses and a connected fish farm, as well as 2,000 m2 of outdoor vegetable gardens.

To keep both greenhouses and water used for aquaculture at a temperature, it uses the heat from the fridges of the food market, producing fruits and vegetables while protecting the food market from overheating and the cold.

Moreover, all materials used to build the farm are recyclable. The farm aims to reduce water consumption and therefore, part of it is filtered rainwater. It also uses solar panels to produce energy.

“The town turns into a solution if it seeks a positive impact at all possible levels: energy, water, air quality, biodiversity, material resources… while creating jobs and promoting integration”, explains Steven Beckers, architect and founder of BIGH (Building Integrated GreenHouses), the company in charge of the project.

The aim of the farm, which will be fully operational by the end of the year, is to produce local food for a local market, reducing emissions from transportation, and to boost growth in a depressed neighbourhood.

“In theory, it was possible to put in place a project like this in the countryside. However, we would have lost part of the ‘circular aspect’,” the architect of the project underlines.

In fact, the market has created jobs and helped reactivate the local economy. The project also foresees building houses in the neighbouring area of the market, as well as promoting social activities.

“The social aspect of this project was essential to me. We provide with job opportunities to the local population while bringing the farmers and the consumers closer,” Beckers stresses.

Both the project of the urban farm and the food market were finalists in the RegioStars Awards, awarded by the European Commission, in 2016.

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