Vertical Farming and Farm Business Innovation

Farm Business Innovation Show

Last week I attended the Farm Business Innovation Show in Birmingham. I participated as an exhibitor, as a volunteer with the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF). It was a valuable learning experience and led me to question where vertical farming in the UK can flourish. Alongside us on the AVF stand were AVF members V-Farm and Hive Urban Farms. V-Farm had brought along a modular version of a hydroponic unit that uses the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) one of the most popular methods for indoor hydroponics.

 

Vertical Farms

Much of the focus on vertical farming has, to date, been on farms situated in urban settings.  The idea being that urban farms will provide locally produced, pesticide-free, nutritious food to city dwellers. In an urban setting, you can site shipping containers or transform disused warehouse space and convert these into controlled environment agriculture (CEA) food growing areas.

However, at Farm Business Innovation, it was farmers asking about vertical farming. Farmers who are looking to add value to a farm. And, it turns out, that many farmers have under-used buildings, and they were interested in understanding if these could be converted into vertical farms.

From listening to farmers, I learnt they were curious about vertical farming. I fielded lots of questions about what different types of vertical agriculture approaches there are, how these methods worked, and how unused buildings could be adapted to become vertical farms. Farmers were interested in the business case and the process of how to set up and market a vertical farm. These will not necessarily be large-scale operations, and some of them will potentially be sited in peri-urban areas, close to cities.

Vertical farms could also be positive for rural tourism. A vertical farm could have a learning or discovery centre alongside it creating a soil and vertical farm experience for visitors.  This would create an opportunity for people to learn and understand how and where the food they eat comes from.

Farm Shops

On a stand just opposite ours was GroLocal. GroLocal sells boxes (shipping containers), punnets and whole stores. They were exhibiting a groSTORE at the event. There is a growing trend for locally produced food. This pattern is seen in restaurants, shops and supermarkets.

 

The concept groSTORE unit uses a flood and drain hydroponic system. You can grow fresh produce such as microgreens and herbs directly in trays, under the LED lights. The system can also be used to extend the shelf life of your product. GroLocal were displaying herbs that had been purchased a month ago that looked in perfect condition.

Reflections

  • I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest in vertical farming at the show, and our stand was super busy all day
  • I was asked to do a Facebook Live talk through of how the Nutrient Film Technique module worked. People love understanding how these systems work.
  • There was a breadth of interest in how vertical farming could be used. I talked with people
    • Looking to start up Community Interest Companies and community farms using shipping containers
    • Asking how to take these vertical farming ideas to Asia and Africa

We are at the beginning of the journey to introduce vertical farming more widely in the UK. Watch this space for regular updates.

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