A short drive southeast of Rome, four young entrepreneurs are paving the way to a greener dining scene in the Italian capital – with the help of 400 koi fish. That’s because the group of friends-turned-business owners are the founders of The Circle Food & Energy Solutions, a farm designed to produce food and energy in the most sustainable and competitive way: through aquaponics.
“We began with the idea to resolve concrete problems of scarcity like the lack of land, water and food,” says Thomas Marino, co-founder and director of marketing for The Circle. The farm, in fact, strives to create a positive impact through innovation. “We wanted to use any waste to fuel our production,” he adds.
Aquaponic farming is a circular system of agriculture that uses fish to naturally fertilize the crops, and in turn uses the plants themselves to purify the water, creating a virtuous cycle of growth with little to no waste. This system saves more than 90% of water compared to traditional farming methods, making it an excellent solution in environments with scarce resources like water or arable land. And because crops are grown vertically in greenhouses, the team is able to grow plants and aromatic herbs year-round – without the use of chemicals or pesticides.
The four founders of The Circle – Valerio Ciotola, Simone Cofini, Lorenzo Garrella and Thomas Marino – graduated with degrees in biotechnology, political science and marketing, making them perfectly poised to develop a sustainable agricultural business and communicate its advantages. And at only 27-years-old, they’ve managed to do what many Italians can’t: thrive in an environment notoriously difficult for entrepreneurs.
Since it was established in 2017, The Circle has created partnerships with a hundred restaurants in Rome and throughout Italy, providing fresh crops and herbs to celebrated names like Il Pagliaccio (two-Michelin stars), Marco Martini Restaurant (one-Michelin star), Roscioli, Retrobottega and Marzapane. The company’s sustainable ethos and technical expertise undoubtedly first generated interest in The Circle but it’s the farm’s the quality products that have helped grow their loyal clientele.
“The restaurants we work with appreciate the variety and quality of our products,” says Mr. Marino, “And we pride ourselves on customization.” The Circle grows hundreds of plants, vegetables and aromatic herbs and works closely with chefs to create bespoke varieties destined to dress and enhance the plates of their guests. Mustard leaves, red basil, lemon thyme and edible flowers are just some of the varieties grown in the greenhouse.
The future looks bright for The Circle, which began with just a 1000-square meter greenhouse and recently inaugurated a second structure to meet rising demand. This additional space will allow the farm to triple its production and help reach €1 million in revenue by the end of the year, establishing it as a leader in the production of sustainable food. The Circle has also been selected as a partner for Innesto, the first carbon-neutral “social housing” project in Italy which will be developed in the coming years along the Scalo Greco Breda railway in Milan.
“We want to create the first hectare of aquaponic farm in Europe by the end of 2020, championing the most sustainable food production plant on the continent”, says Mr. Marino. The company also has plans to expand its technology outside of Europe and work with partners across Africa, South America and Asia.