What if I told you there was a vertical farm growing microgreens six minutes travel time from London Bridge that had a stall at Borough Market. It may sound unlikely. However, it is true.
Welcome to the world of minicrops™ and to the latest blog post looking at vertical and urban farming.
In March I spoke with Jamie one of the co-founders of MiniCrops. The focus was on the business model they have followed, rather than about the growing techniques used. In this article, you will learn how about MiniCrops as a business and how it manifests the tagline, ‘produce closer to home’.
A Brief History
The business was set up to address questions about the future of food security and sustainability. It is an ‘agriculture technology initiative‘. The farm is located in Artworks Creekside in Deptford. The public launch came on 29 July 2017, and the business began by delivering to customers across London. On January 18th, 2018 MiniCrops launched a stall at Borough Market where it has a presence on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Vertical Farm set up
Although the article will focus on the business model it is helpful to understand how the vertical farm is currently set up. The farm is set up using an ebb and flow hydroponics system using Philips LED lights. As part of the controlled environment agriculture, the temperature is allowed to fall at night so that it more closely mimics the natural environment for the plants.
The building that is currently being used is probably not perfect for vertical farming. However, it is fine as the first step on a long-term journey in vertical farming. And in time I am looking forward to seeing what the next step up for MiniCrops will be.
There are different business models that can be used with vertical farming. MiniCrops have followed a diversified strategy. They have a number of different commercial channels including having an online presence, stalls at farmers’ markets, a stall at Borough Market and working with high-end restaurants.
Just a couple of months after publicly launching the business MiniCrops started working with leading restaurants. The restaurants could appreciate the benefits of fresh, local produce being delivered several times a week. MiniCrops currently supply to 45 restaurants. As a value-add, the company also offers to work with restaurants to look at what is coming up in terms of ingredients for the next season menus and to grow a specific or different crop to complement this.
MiniCrops can also outsource a growing space at the farm to businesses that want to have a dedicated space to try out new products.
Pop Up stalls
The business is also further diversifying with plans for a pop-up stall in a top end department store. Having a physical presence at markets and through pop-up stalls allow the company to talk to people directly about the controlled environment agriculture being used to grow the crops. It also allows them to showcase product and in some cases install a growing station.
As with other vertical farm operations I have looked at there are a few high-end products that currently help subsidise some of the other crops grown. For example, some crops can grow 14 punnets of produce in 8 days whereas other crops would yield only 1 punnet in 8 days. Businesses have to work within the limits of acceptable pricing variability while also reflecting the difference in production of each crop.
A couple of weeks after I spoke with Jamie I made my way to Borough Market to check out the stall and to buy some produce to try. There were 16 different varieties listed to choose from that had been harvested the same day. And there are five new varieties on the way.
I bought four punnets to make a salad for lunch and to pair with goats cheese. MiniCrops use punnets that are 100% biodegradable and compostable.
Community and Education
MiniCrops has a focus on the local community both through creating local employment opportunities and by growing local produce. The business is also looking to partner up with local businesses and schools.
I appreciate the time that Jamie spent talking with me about MiniCrops. If you want to keep up with the latest news and developments then check out their website. And if you want to go and have a chat about what they sell and have a taste yourself then head along to the stall at Borough Market on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.