On a grey winter evening after work, I visited Alasdair, the proud owner of a small-scale vertical farm in an industrial unit just behind Temple Meads Train Station. I rang the bell and, shortly after, was welcomed into his incredible space. Bristol Urban Farms grows herbs, pea shoots, salads and other greens, delivered directly to retailers, greengrocers and restaurants around the city.
Using 90% less water than conventional farming
Far fewer food miles with full supply chain transparency
A personal relationship between grower and customer
Contributing toward a stronger local economy
Alasdair’s farm uses renewable energy to power the lights, 90% less water than conventional agriculture and, within just a few weeks, produces incredible quality, nutritious and delicious locally-grown food from a warehouse in the middle of the city! There are very few food miles, a much shorter supply chain, and better relationships between growers and customers.
‘To get this far, it’s been a huge amount of trial and error. I started by absorbing as much information as I could from online blogs, books, research papers, and YouTube videos. Then I began to put feasibility models together to see if I could run profitably based on the data I had collected. It was finally time to grow, which is when things got challenging. I am still experiencing challenges today, trying to get things perfect for the plants.’
'My motivation is that I really want to see a more sustainable future and help to build this. Through learning to develop the vertical farming system, I found my passion for engineering and, of course, growing things!'
It was so refreshing to meet yet another enthusiastic young entrepreneur in the Bristol food scene. After showing me around, we sat on his new sofa in the makeshift office space. I was excited to hear more about his business, so we discussed his vision for the future. We talked about decentralising our fresh produce supply chain. Instead of produce being shipped thousands of miles, customers can enjoy it at its best by being grown right on their doorstep. This ensures that the produce is eaten at its very best while supporting small businesses.
Spending your money with companies like Alasdair's supports the local economy rather than siphoning it off to multinational corporations. This can only be a step in the right direction towards more local and resilient food supply chains. Hopefully, one day soon, we can forget the woes of empty supermarket shelves due to global pandemics and international conflict.
I was dubious about vertical farming at one point. I still firmly believe it is essential we don't lose focus on important sustainability metrics such as biodiversity and soil health in the pursuit of low-carbon futures. However, while vertical farming shouldn't completely replace traditional farming, I think this can be an important piece of the puzzle for providing fresh produce to people within our cities and urban environments.
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