Asterisk Asterisk

Exploring the Future of Farming

Did you know there's a vertical farm here at our venue? It's a collaborative project with the Fix Our Food team, the incredible minds at the University of York and the amazing guys at LettUs Grow.  In recent years, vertical farming has gained significant attention for its unique approach to growing crops in a controlled, vertical environment. Find out more about this innovative method from Dr Alana Kluczkovski, Research Associate at Fix Our Food Programme over at the University of York.

What is Grow It York?

Grow It York is an indoor urban community farm in a shipping container, located in the city centre of York at Spark*. We supplying hyper-local produce to the surrounding businesses and communities. It was built as part of FixOurFood Programme, a project at the University of York, to investigate how vertical farming can play a role in creating positive change within our food systems, benefiting our health, environment and economy.

Who is involved with Grow It York?

As part of an University programme, there are researchers and technicians from different departments of the University of York, including plant scientists, biologists, business model and marketing experts, and external collaborators, such as the provider of the technology used in the farm (LettUs Grow), a local light company (Vertically Urban), Spark*:York and others.

How long has Grow It York been operating for?

The farm was installed in Feb 2021 and started operations in July that year. The first phase consisted on staff training and production trailing. Second phase was finding food business interested to work with us and build crop portfolio according to business demand. We have recently started charging the business and are developing a proposal for a sustainable/viable business model that allow us to have social and environmental impacts.

What inspired you to begin this initiative?

I work researching the food system since 2019 and Grow It York is an innovative way to tackle many issues on the food system. I have come across vertical farming during one science exhibit and was excited to learn more about it.  Working at the vertical farm, we don’t need to be physically at the farm every day - because I can control what happens there remotely using an online system. Personally, I'm able to have a good balance of my work load between the farm, campus and working from home.

What is vertical farming, and why is it beneficial?

Vertical farming is part of what is known by Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). It means that we grow indoors without soil, and vertically, by stacking the growing beds like bunk beds. Using this way of growing crops we can control everything within the vertical farm from plant nutrients to lighting, temperature and water, crop yields are very predictable, with short times to harvest, minimal waste, and produce which is highly nutritious. Vertical farms grow crops all-year-round in cities, closer to consumers, which reduces food miles and the need for chilled supply chains helping lower carbon footprints and improving access to healthy food.

What do you think farming will look like in the future?

Vertical Farming will contribute largely to produce food world wide, but specially In cities. Places experiencing extremely weather conditions, such as draughts and floods will struggle to produce food, impacting other countries due to imports/exports. Vertical farms will play a role on being a reliable source to produce food. Also, the types of crops produced in the future might be different then what is currently produced by most vertical farms, which means that we may have a greater variety of food produced by vertical indoor farms.

What is something about Grow It York that you think more people should know about?

The food we produce is safe, nutritious and delicious! Just as food produced on a field farm, we reproduced the lights as it would be sun light, and make sure everything in the vertical farm is clean and safe to keep crops healthy and nutritious using a lot less natural resources ( we use 95% less water) and chemicals (zero pesticides and little nutrients). We also want to make impact in society, and for this we contribute to our local community supplying every week a food bank with fresh produce.

How can people get involved with Grow It York?

You can check our website to know more about us and what we do. Also, you can book a visit to see the vertical farm - we host monthly visits or join a food tour at Tour in a dish and taste the delicious produce we grow.

Do you have any other projects/initiatives coming up?

We have several research projects around shifting light periods to reduce energy demand while maintaining yield and using endophytic nitrogen fixing bacteria to reduce inorganic nitrogen requirements. We’ve just been to Great Yorkshire show to engage with people about vertical farming laughing our virtual reality experience, where people could wear VR glasses to take a tour to the vertical farm.