It’s been a really busy week at GrowUp towers – we’ve had a royal visit to the GrowUp Box (more details and photos on our Facebook page) and we’ve had some exciting news that we’ve been waiting a while for, which means we can now share some of our plans for the immediate future.
We’ve just been granted planning permission to build London’s first commercial scale aquaponic urban farm – in fact, it will be the first of its kind in the UK. We’re taking an old warehouse in Beckton, East London, and we’re installing an aquaponics system capable of producing over 20,000kgs of salads and herbs and 4,000kg of fish every year, the majority of which we’ll be selling to local restaurants.
Although we’ve been working on this project since early last year, we’ve not wanted to share the news until now because until we had planning permission we weren’t 100% sure we could go ahead and build in the space we’d found. In August last year, we closed our first round of financing, raising investment from Ignite Social Enterprise and securing a significant grant from InnovateUK’s Agri-Tech Catalyst on top of the seed funding we’d already received as part of the Climate-KIC accelerator. It’s a great feeling to be supported by such an excellent network of partners and stakeholders – we wouldn’t have got this far without them, and we’re sure we’ll succeed faster and better with them.
Since we’re building inside a warehouse, the farm is going to look rather different from the GrowUp Box. For a start, we’ll be using a stacked vertical growing system with LED lights to grow the plants (more on those lights in a future blog post) and we’ll be managing the whole environment (both on the aquaculture side and on the hydroponics side) much more closely – to make sure we can be as efficient as possible with our energy and resource use and to make sure we can grow high-quality produce all year round.
We’re also including a small visitors centre at the farm – because we know how much people want to see what we’re doing, and we think learning about sustainable food production is the best way to get people to make healthy and sustainable choices about the food they buy and eat.
One of the things I’m really excited about is the fact that through our first farm we are creating jobs in our local area – and I hope these will be the first of many as we expand the business. Learning how to operate an aquaponic urban farm isn’t exactly something you can do a GCSE in at the moment, so we’ll be taking on young people from the local area and training them up to work with us. Generating positive social and environmental benefit is something that Tom and I care passionately about – we think smarter, more sustainable cities only develop when businesses and communities are “people-centric” – and creating meaningful employment is one of our core values.
It will take us a couple of months to get the farm up and running, and we’re hoping to start harvesting in September this year. We’ll be using this blog to share the journey and give you a sneak peak of our progress, so keep an eye on the website and sign up to the Newsletter if you haven’t already done so!