Closed-Loop Crop Cascade to Optimize Nutrient Flows and Grow Low-Impact Vegetables in Cities

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Urban agriculture systems can significantly contribute towards mitigating the impacts of inefficient and complex food supply chains and increase urban food sovereignty. Moreover, improving these urban agriculture systems in terms of nutrient management can lead to a better environmental performance. Based on a rooftop greenhouse in the Barcelona region, we propose a cascade system where the leachates of a tomato cycle from January to July (donor crop) are used as the main irrigation source for five successive lettuce cycles (receiving crop). By determining the agronomic performance and the nutrient metabolism of the system, we aimed to define the potential of these systems to avoid nutrient depletion and mitigate eutrophication, while scaling the system in terms of nutrient supply between the donor and the receiving crops. The results showed that low yields (below 130 g per lettuce plant) are obtained if a cascade system is used during the early stage of the donor crop, as the amount of nutrients in donor’s leachates, specially N (62.4 mg irrigated per plant in the first cycle), was not enough to feed the lettuce receiving crop. This effect was also observed in the nutrient content of the lettuce, which increased with every test until equaling the control (4.4% of N content) as the leachates got richer, although too high electrical conductivity values (near 3 dS/m) were reached at the end of the donor crop cycle. Findings on the uptake of the residual nutrient flows showed how the cascade system was able to take advantage of the nutrients to produce local lettuce while mitigating the effect of N and P in the freshwater and marine environments. Considering our case study, we finally quantified the scale between the donor and receiving crops and proposed three major ideas to optimize the nutrient flows while maintaining the yield and quality of the vegetables produced in the receiving crop.

Original languageEnglish
Article number596550
Pages (from-to)596550
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2020


  • cascade systems
  • industrial ecology
  • nutrient recycling
  • urban agriculture
  • urban metabolism


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