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. Sounds unlikely. But, it’s true.
Welcome to the world of minicrops™ and to my latest blog post looking at vertical and urban farming.
In March, I spoke with Jamie, one of the co-founders of MiniCrops. We spoke about the business model they follow, rather than the growing techniques. In this article, you can read more about MiniCrops as a company and how they’re implementing the slogan “Produce closer to home”.
A Brief History
The business was founded 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 took place on 29 July 2017 and the company began delivering to customers across London. On 18 January 2018, MiniCrops opened a stall at Borough Market, where it’s present on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Vertical Farm set up
Although the article focuses on the business model, it’s helpful to understand how the vertical farm is currently set up. The farm is set up with an ebb and flow hydroponic system using Philips LED lights. As part of controlled environment agriculture, the temperature is lowered at night to better mimic the natural environment for the plants.
The building currently in use is probably not perfect for vertical farming. But as a first step on a long-term journey into vertical farming, it’s fine. And I’m excited to see what the next step for MiniCrops will be.
There are different business models that can be used for vertical farming. MiniCrops has adopted a diversified strategy. They’ve a number of different distribution channels including an online presence, stalls at farmers’ markets, a stall at Borough Market and working with top 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’s 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 will also diversify further, with plans for a pop-up stall in a prime department store. The presence at markets and pop-up stalls will allow the company to directly inform people about the controlled farming where the plants are grown. They can also showcase their products there and in some cases set up a growing station.
As with other vertical farms I’ve looked at, there are a few high value products that currently help subsidise some of the other crops grown. For example, some crops can produce 14 punnets of produce in 8 days while other crops only yield 1 basket in 8 days. Companies need to work within the limits of acceptable price fluctuations while taking into account the differences in production between crops.
A few weeks after my conversation with Jamie, I headed to Borough Market to check out the stall and buy some products to try. There were 16 different varieties to choose from, all harvested on 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 goat’s cheese. MiniCrops use punnets that are 100% biodegradable and compostable.
Community and Education
MiniCrops focuses on the local community by creating local jobs and growing local produce. The company also seeks partnerships with local businesses and schools.
I thank Jamie for taking the time to talk to me about MiniCrops. If you want to keep up to date with the latest developments, visit their website. And if you want to find out about their products and try them for yourself, come to their stall at Borough Market on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.