GrowUp Farms, the first vertical farm in the country to supply UK supermarkets with a branded salad product, is celebrating 10 years in business this week – just days after Founder and Chief Brand Officer Kate Hofman was a guest at 10 Downing Street.
The growth and success of GrowUp Farms has taken place in a decade of increasing concern about the downward trend of UK food production and the welfare of the planet. Both concerns that GrowUp Farms was originally founded to tackle.
In the past 10 years, the pioneering founders Kate Hofman and Tom Webster, have taken the concept of vertical farming from a small unit in London using aquaponic methods, to a huge vertical farm, (called Pepperness) in Kent which, backed by £100 million investment, is supplying UK supermarkets with a branded bagged salad.
But GrowUp Farms is unique among UK vertical farms because it uses on-site renewable energy and can therefore grow food with a lighter environmental footprint and a more resilient supply chain and has not been exposed to energy price hikes that have affected other growers so badly.
The farm’s success has led to Hofman being invited to the Downing Street Farm to Food summit as an industry expert, and to the farm itself being featured heavily recently on ITV and BBC TV news reports into the vertical farming industry.
“GrowUp Farms has spent 10 years developing the technology and expertise to get to this point: growing salad leaves in the UK all-year-round commercially” says Kate Hofman.
“Now we have nailed that and are the first vertical farm to supply a branded salad product to UK supermarkets, we are working hard towards launching a range of salads this summer, as well as expanding the variety of produce we can grow at Pepperness. Our R&D team are already solving some of the challenges that will allow us to grow other crops such as identifying heritage seed varieties that can’t be grown conventionally and improving the growth cycle of certain plants. Vertical farming is very much a long-term solution to the problems we are seeing.”
Hofman and Webster started the company in response to some of the huge problems with food production and sustainability they could see in this country, not least the fact that the UK relies on importing 67% of the salad we eat each year, and over 90% in the winter.
“In the 10 years since GrowUp Farms began its journey, these problems have, if anything, worsened” says Hofman.
This year saw a 40-year low in domestic salad production, due to a combination of soaring energy and other production costs, and subsequent shortages in UK supermarkets, because of the country’s dependence on overseas for food. In the past month the NFU has warned that time is running out to safeguard UK farming, and only last week the Prime Minister held an emergency food summit at Downing Street, which Hofman attended. This is all against a background of a cost-of-living crisis which is affecting everyone in the country and has seen food inflation soar to record highs.
“We worked hard to bring down the cost of production and perfect the ideal conditions for our crops to thrive” says Hofman. “And, in February this year GrowUp Farms became the very first UK vertical farm to supply a branded salad to UK supermarkets with the launch of Fresh Leaf Co., and we’re excited about bringing more products to market in the coming months.”
These launches demonstrate the role that vertical farms can play in helping the UK become more self-sufficient and being able to grow a variety of fruit and vegetables all year round.
“In addition to creating a more resilient supply chain in the UK,” continues Hofman, “our bagged salads are ready to eat, don’t need to be washed in chlorine, aren’t grown with any pesticides or chemicals, are affordable, and last longer than other bagged salads, due to the way they are grown. Longer lasting leaves mean less waste which is better for purses and better for the environment.
”We want to continue to play a key role in helping the UK to end its over-reliance on imports of salads. We solve problems in food production by growing food better, in perfect conditions. We can grow the best quality crops year-round in this country, and our controlled environment means we’re resilient to climate change and its impacts on farming.
“We’re part of the evolution of the great British farming tradition, helping to build a more sustainable food system for the UK. We are doing things differently and making it mainstream, and businesses like ours have never been more needed for UK food production.”