We wanted to share a bit about the journey that GrowUp has been on over the past 18 months - so apologies in advance for the long post; but it needs a bit of time…
When Tom and I started GrowUp Urban Farms in 2013, we recognised that to create fundamental change in our food system, we’d need to innovate across three areas - technology, business model and supply chain. When we built our first commercial prototype farm in London, “Unit 84,” we wanted to demonstrate that Controlled Environment Production of leafy greens and fish could be done using aquaponics, and that the produce could be delivered directly into local shops and restaurants across London.
For over two years we serviced customers across the city (well, as far as our electric van could take us!), we employed and trained some incredible team members, and we were told by chefs that our produce was the best they’d ever tasted. As one of the first producers to work with Farmdrop, we were part of pioneering new ways for consumers to buy straight from farmers, we grew unusual greens that restaurants loved and we won awards for the quality of our salads.
We opened our farm up to visitors from around the world, we gave tours for academic groups, journalists and aquaponic enthusiasts, we ran workshops for school children, we spoke at corporate events. All because we wanted to share the story that food production could be done more sustainably, and could have a more positive impact than was currently being achieved.
We did all of that from the U.K.’s first aquaponic vertical farm, a commercial prototype that we built with some fantastic technical partners, and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears.
But here’s the thing about prototypes - by their very nature, not everything about them works. The farm we built at Unit 84 was brilliant in lots of ways, but it had some fundamental problems, which meant that it wasn’t making enough money to cover its costs. We still fundamentally believe that vertical farming is a necessary part of a sustainable food system - we just didn’t get everything right on our first farm. Along the way, we’d developed a hell of a lot of knowledge and experience around what works, and what doesn’t work in aquaponics and vertical farming. We’d identified some very exciting opportunities for the business that we wanted to explore - but we couldn’t do those things at Unit 84.
So it was with exceptionally heavy hearts that we made the decision to close Unit 84 (This is one of the hard and uncomfortable parts of starting a business that people don’t like to talk about). We needed some time and space to take stock of what had happened and decide what to do next. You can hear me talk more that whole experience and what it meant for the business here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhh44HQpeYs (You’ll need to skip the video to start at 1:14:29).
With Unit 84 packed up in shipping containers, we sat down and started working on what came next. We found an exciting partner to work with on the relocation and rebuild of our vertical aquaponics system to a new home, and we hope we’ll be able to bring you more news about that in the near future. The idea is that in it’s new home, the farm will become a showcase for vertical aquaponics, growing even more delicious produce and fish and inspiring even more people to think about more sustainable food production.
At the same time, we’re taking all the knowledge and learning from the past 5 years of GrowUp’s journey and applying it to making Controlled Environment Production (CEP) of salads happen at an industrial scale. There is an incredible opportunity to farm, pack, deliver and sell fresh produce in a different way - and we want to be leading that change in the UK and beyond.
We’ll share more news on this blog (and by the way, please let us know what you think of our new website!) and hope you’ll continue to share our passion for a more sustainable food system.
Peace, Love and Leaves,
Kate and the GrowUp Team