Collaboration for social-impact vertical farming projects

14-07-2021    08:40   |    Agritech Tomorrow

UK, Wales- Four major UK vertical farming companies, LettUs Grow, Digital Farming, Farm Urban and GrowStack, are collaborating to bring the benefits of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) to Welsh communities. This is one of the widest collaborations between leading CEA tech providers in the UK to date, with a focus on delivering vertical farms across different locations in Wales as part of a social-impact and community focused project called Crop Cycle.

Vertical farming, a way of growing crops indoors on stacked shelves, can be beneficial for people, plants and the planet. It allows growers to provide fresh, healthy produce to their local area 365 days of the year and can help to supplement outdoor growing. It diversifies our supply chains and boosts local food security. It also has a long stream of environmental benefits, such as using fewer resources including land or water, removing the use of chemical pesticides and reducing the need to transport food across seas. However, a common criticism of vertical farming is that it’s not always accessible or affordable to areas under-served by our food networks.

Crop Cycle is looking to bring the benefits of vertical farming directly to communities who could benefit most and is being funded by the Welsh Government through the Foundational Economy Challenge Fund. The project is being led by Social Farms and Gardens, supported by Welsh Government's NutriWales CEA Special Interest Group and BIC Innovation.

The project enables multiple different CEA systems to be tailored to fit different community settings, whilst also allowing them to be assessed in a coordination across the pilot sites. This approach is unique, facilitating the testing of new socially focused business models, the engagement of the local communities and businesses with CEA and the development of new technical solutions. LettUs Grow, Digital Farming, GrowStack and Farm Urban are working together to share their specialisms and apply different technologies to where they are best suited within four sites in Wales, two of which are in the Valleys.

This project will introduce year-round food growing right into the heart of Welsh communities, where they’ll be connected to the particular dynamics of the local area. Activities will test new community-based engagement models, focusing on social well-being, local entrepreneurship and environmental impact. In this way, the project will be bringing together community, businesses and local public sector organisations.

Gary Mitchell, the Wales Manager for Social Farms and Gardens who is leading the project team stated, "we are excited to be running the pilot project across a diverse set of sites to gain insight and further knowledge into how new agricultural systems can successfully support communities in delivering local, fresh and nutritious foods as well as important social benefits in a sustainable manner."

 

Welcome To Our Woods

Welcome To Our Woods in Treherbert is nestled in the heart of the Rhondda Valleys, where LettUs Grow and GrowStack will be delivering an aeroponic and hydroponic vertical container farm. This proactive community group has been actively engaging with its communities through partnerships with the Green Valleys CIC and their joint ‘Skyline’ project. This partnership has led to several funding investments in the region, exploring community ownership of land and the benefits of allowing the community to utilise their surrounding natural green assets.

Chris Nelson, director of GrowStack said: “Growstack are delighted to be working alongside LettUs Grow and Digital Farming as part of this important social enterprise. It is always fantastic to be part of a project that champions vertical farming and really shares in the values of what this approach to food production can offer, including the benefits to the local community. Working in partnership with innovative farming companies is always a pleasure, as together we can combine our expertise to deliver outstanding results.”

Ian Thomas from Welcome To Our Woods said, “We are excited to be bringing such an innovative and progressive project to our local high street. We have already been engaging with the Upper Rhondda community to explore the projects that actively use our woodlands for the benefit of those they surround, and initiatives such as this help give local people an idea of what can be achieved."


Cultivate

Two linked sites will be in Newtown, one within the established community growing space attached to the Newtown Campus of the Neath Port Talbot College Group, and one within a new town centre ‘Circular Economy’ shop. The two CEA systems, provided by LettUs Grow and Digital Farming, are being integrated into an active college site and managed by a community group, with a cafe and kitchen, shop, deli and veg box scheme in place. The site is supported by Cultivate, which is a membership cooperative linking food and community. Cultivate aims to address many of the issues associated with the modern food system, and focus on creating sustainable local food solutions.

Charlie Guy, co-founder and CEO of LettUs Grow said this about the collaborations: “LettUs Grow is delighted to be working alongside these leaders of the UK vertical farming ecosystem and inspiring community projects. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were implemented the same year as our foundation and have never been far from our minds. SDG 17 ‘Partnerships for the Goals’ rings especially true for us. We believe a brighter future can only be realised with inclusive partnerships and strong cooperation, built on shared values and a vision which places people and the planet at its epicentre.”

 

Greenmeadow Community Farm

Greenmeadow Community Farm in Cwmbran is being delivered by Digital Farming. It is one of only two ‘city farms’ in Wales and one which connects people to food and farming in a very public way. It is owned and operated by Torfaen County Borough Council, bringing with it a high-level partnership. The farm already welcomes thousands of visitors through its gates and connects locally through a number of schools and college partnerships – making it an ideal ‘showcase’ location for this pilot. Digital Farming were commissioned to deliver the Digital Farm in a container for pilot production of high nutrition greens and herbs. The system uses V-Farm patented growing systems linked to Digital Farming’s smart digital management system powered by solar PV.

Dr Gareth Jones, CEO of Digital Farming, said, “we were delighted to be awarded this project and have been enjoying working with the team at Social Farms and Gardens and Greenmeadow to bring together a new concept to explore the business of growing locally using controlled environment agriculture to enhance nutrition for communities.”  

Xplore! Science Discovery Centre

The final site is in Xplore! Science Discovery Centre, situated in the centre of Wrexham: a brand new science centre that will support the promotion of urban agriculture in north Wales’ largest urban area. The vertical farming system is provided by Farm Urban. It will reach out to all generations, showcasing new technology and modern horticulture methods, blended with traditional growing experience. Xplore! welcomes public visitors, school groups and provides a range of educational workshops.

Paul Myers, Managing Director of Farm Urban said: “We are thrilled to be able to offer our hydroponic Edible Wall systems, Produce Pod aquaponic systems and learning programmes across all four sites involved in the Crop Cycle project. The team at Farm Urban have loved working alongside the four community organisations, they are all so enthusiastic and engaged which is exactly what we need for the social and environmental benefits of CEA to be shared across the UK and beyond. It has been a privilege to work alongside industry leaders GrowStack, LettUs Grow and Digital Farming learning more about their systems and approach. One of the many highlights of this project has been the openness and willingness to share and collaborate between all partners which is so important to drive the industry forward.”

 

To follow the progress of the community grow sites, you can follow Crop Cycle on social media, and technology providers LettUs GrowDigital FarmingGrowStack and Farm Urban.

Source and Photo Courtesy of Agritech Tomorrow


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