There is almost no comparison when it comes to the efficiencies of vertical farming vs. standard farming. From renewable energy to markedly less water use to lack of pesticides, vertical farming can have marked advantages. If there is one potential drawback, it might be scalability.
But the need to develop more sustainable methods are growing, and inroads are beginning to take root to increase those in the UK. Recently, the company Foresight announced it has made a major investment in vertical farmers Harvest London to expand their footprint. Currently, Harvest London has two farms, one in East London and another that is getting off the ground in Beddington, South London. The latter has 140,000 square feet to grow a variety of produce.
So what is driving this push?
Foresight says the need to produce fruits and vegetables that serve consumers close by – vertical farming typically leans to hyperlocal – is paramount. It believes Harvest London is well positioned to spark “a greener future for food production” and will be embraced by key retail markets.
“This approach to farming will play a pivotal role in shaping a more sustainable future and meeting the country’s food needs,” said Matt Hammond, partner at Foresight. “The next phase of expansion will positively impact job creation and stimulate the local economy.”
Operating in controlled environments like many farms just like them, Harvest London wants to do more than produce great-tasting fruits and vegetables. They want to force a revolution, not only in terms of mitigating food shortages and sparing the environment from waste and degradation, but also in helping communities thrive. Their three business goals stated in the annual B Corp Impact Report were “Zero Hunger, Decent Work and Economic Growth and Responsible Consumption and Production.”
It’s nice to talk that game, but Harvest London and other vertical farms do consistently live those promises by shortening supply chain impacts, reducing fertiliser use and completely eliminating pesticides from the growing equation. It scored a 104.7 in terms of environment impact, while other businesses averaged a 50.9, earning a coveted “Best for the World” ribbon from Living Wage. And yields are off the charts compared with other farms.
Harvest London has been growing 100 or so crops using hydroponic methods since 2020, though Chris Davis and Matt Chlebek started the company five years ago and it continues to gain support. Its big partners include Compass Group and Pizza Pilgrims. But it has its sights set on much more.
All of its workers get a living wage and Harvest London says it is committed to increasing it each time numbers are adjusted. By making impacts within cities because of their smaller footprint, they can offer positions to far many more workers than those in rural locations while also reducing food miles. In addition, their farms are completely powered by 100% renewable energy and items are transported by zero emissions vehicles.
But where they might make a surprising splash is in the flavour and freshness of what they produce.
“While you might not yet have tasted something grown in a vertical farm, in the future this type of produce is going to be on your menu, whether that’s from a supermarket, in prepared food, or eating out,” Davis said. “Vertical farming is a technology that can complement British agriculture, helping us reduce our reliance on food imports, and give consumers fresher, more local ingredients. We want to make the UK a world-leader in this exciting new industry.”