HEC Montréal PhD candidate Émilie Nollet is working on the democratization of food. She dreams of making food and agriculture more accessible, and of helping communities to gain control over their food resources, especially in urban areas.
This approach uses 80% less water than traditional agriculture and produces 10 times more food per square metre.
Far from limiting herself to theory, she and her partner Olivier Demers-Dubé founded a social enterprise, Écosystèmes Alimentaires Urbains or ÉAU [Urban Food Ecosystems]. ÉAU uses aquaponics, a technique that produces fresh fruits, vegetables and fish in a closed loop system. Aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants without soil) with aquaculture (raising fish). Waste products from the fish nourish the plants, which in turn purify the water the fish live in. This approach uses 80% less water than traditional agriculture and produces 10 times more food per square metre.
ÉAU designs vertical farms with different levels. Being indoors, they can continue to produce food all year round, regardless of weather conditions. This method does not use pesticides or harmful fertilizers.
For Nollet and Demers-Dubé, this project formed the basis of their Master’s and doctoral research. Their efforts have already had an impact on the community. In the summer of 2016, they set up an aquaponic farm close to Jean-Talon Market in Montréal, where several thousand visitors were able to learn about this innovative approach.
Neighbourhood community organizations were involved in the project. For instance, ÉAU shared its harvest with family resource centre La maisonnette des parents, which prepared a Thanksgiving meal using fish from the aquaponic farm.
This type of initiative demonstrates the potential of companies like ÉAU, in Québec and elsewhere, to combat food insecurity among disadvantaged populations, the central theme of Émilie Nollet’s PhD thesis.