Investing With Purpose: How GrowUp Farms is ushering in the future of farming
Imagine if the UK could grow all kinds of produce all year-round, without pesticides, using 100% renewable energy, local farmers and considerably less land? GrowUp Farms is proving this is entirely possible.
The team has been leading the way in vertical farming since 2013, and when I realised the critical role these farms could play in building a sustainable food system, I decided to invest right away. 10 years after launching, GrowUp Farms has become the first vertical farm in the UK to launch branded leaves in a major supermarket. The range is called Unbeleafable, and the name says it all.
In case you’re not familiar with it, vertical farming is a system which uses both hydroponics (growing plants in a nutrient water solution with no soil) and LED lighting in an indoor environment. This allows the crops to be grown in a controlled environment under perfect conditions, consistently, 365 days a year. This means that British farmers could produce all kinds of crops all year round – increasing productivity and opportunities, cutting out pesticides and chlorine, and cutting down on emissions, food miles, water, and waste. Truly brilliant. Earlier this year, I popped to a pub in Kent to chat to Kate Hofman (co-founder), and Marcus Whately (CEO) to learn more about their journey – which has been pollinated with purpose from the very first shoots.
In true start-up style, GrowUp farms started with Kate cycling across London to deliver the first leaves. 10 years later and the team’s Unbeleafable range can now be found on hundreds of supermarket shelves. The team has built the most incredible farm in Kent, which is run on 100% renewable energy from the bioenergy plant next door and, once it’s fully complete, the farm will use 94% less water than ready-to-eat salads grown in a field or greenhouse. The impact of this one farm is going to be enormous. As we discussed in the interview, GrowUp Farms will save 370 million litres of water, 2.8 million miles of transport, 4,000 tonnes of food waste and 7,000 tonnes of CO₂ every single year. It’s such an exciting blueprint for the future of farming, which Kate really brought into perspective when she told me:
We’ve taken a dis-used brownfield site and inside it we’ve created the equivalent of 1,000 acres of traditional Grade 1 farmland. The footprint of the land we’re using is a five-acre site.
It's also brilliant to see how Unbeleafable products have a significantly longer shelf-life. I feel like you merely blink and salad leaves start to wilt in the fridge! Research conducted by GrowUp Farms found that 98% of respondents said they throw away bagged salad leaves. As Marcus explained to me: “When we’re growing in a vertical farm, what we’re trying to do is give the crops the perfect environment to grow up. It’s a Mediterranean spring day for them all day, every day… We’ve now got something that stays fresher for longer, it lasts longer, it’s less waste and it’s better value for money.” And you really can taste the freshness. As Marcus explained why this is, I found myself mindlessly eating them straight out of the bag as if they were crisps!
In between our conversation and writing this, GrowUp Farms was also given the green light on an expansion plan to their Pepperness farm, which will increase output by 40% and make an even bigger positive impact on the world. The expansion will also enable the company to double the number of full-time employees.
Thank you to everyone at GrowUp Farms for paving the way toward a more sustainable food system, and showing leaders everywhere that reaping what you sow can be a wonderful thing if you embed purpose at your roots.