LettUs Grow, an indoor farming technology provider from Bristol, England, has teamed up with the University of York and container park Spark:York to create “Grow It York,” a vertical, community farm at the heart of the vibrant container park in Piccadilly, York.
Spark:York is a Community Interest Company using shipping containers to provide spaces for local restaurants, retailers and entrepreneurs.
The farm forms part of the FixOurFood program, a leading food systems research collaboration led by the University of York, funded for five years through the Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund. FixOurFood aims to transform Yorkshire food networks and develop regenerative systems that will create a fairer and more sustainable future for food production.
Grow It York is an indoor urban community farm in a shipping container, supplying hyper-local produce to the surrounding businesses and locals. It was built to investigate how vertical farming can play a role in creating positive changes within our food systems, while also benefiting our health, environment and economy.
The project’s mission is to prove that healthy food is about more than just nutrition: “Our food must come from a healthy planet supporting biodiversity and vigorous ecosystems. It should enrich the communities where it is grown and eaten, and help local economies to thrive.”
LettUs Grow is supplying the vertical farming technology and their growing specialist, Billy Rodgers, is also providing on-site growing training. “The Grow It York project has a really interesting range of teams involved,” Rodgers says. “The collaboration between work in technology development, project feasibility research and real-world use of vertically farmed produce is important because food sustainability can’t be addressed by any one thing — you need to look at the whole food supply chain. It’s been really great being able to provide growing training for Grow It York. It’s exciting to see how projects like these can make learning about growing food more accessible to those in cities.”
LettUs Grow’s aeroponic technology is an eco-friendly method of growing crops indoors without soil, with less water and without the need for pesticides. The container farm will grow salad crops such as pea shoots, watercress, microgreens and herbs, which can also be prepared and eaten fresh at the restaurants within Spark:York.
LettUs Grow CEO and Co-founder Charlie Guy believes that projects like these are key to maximizing the benefits of indoor growing. “It’s exciting to see indoor farming being utilized in this environment because the advantages of growing in such close proximity to consumers are so evidently visible,” Guy says. “Whether that’s reducing food miles and food waste, or more holistic benefits such as getting people involved in and excited about growing food locally. Container park communities are a great way to demonstrate the impact of indoor farming on a smaller scale and they really emphasize the potential for this model to be translated across the country at different settings and scales.”
The University of York, through FixOurFood, is researching how hybrid businesses that prioritize social and environmental benefit (not just profit) can be encouraged in the food system. It will explore how these innovative businesses can help tackle the health, environment and economic challenges of how we produce, supply and eat food. This joint university-business community farm is the first of its kind, but there are plans to expand to other locations if the project is a success.
“It’s fantastic to be working with Spark:York and LettUs Grow on this project combining research with action — growing fresh produce for the variety of local restaurants, working with the local community and evaluating the impact of Grow It York,” says Professor Katherine Denby, project lead in FixOurFood. “We hope to offer community slots for growing in the farm and are already working with eco and food groups in schools to design events around the farm. The indoor farm can grow produce all year round with the highly local supply chain promoting the local economy and less vulnerable to disruption from weather, pandemics, changes to international trade and so on.”
Tom McKenzie, Spark:York’s co-founder and director, says “We’re extremely proud to be working with LettUs Grow and the University of York on this. It represents an exciting step forward for our project, and the first time any form of vertical growing has been trialed in York city center. We feel this setting is perfect, with such a focus on local and independent food producers at Spark:York.”
“It’s brilliant to see our chefs already starting to use this amazing produce,” McKenzie continues. “The interest from members of the public visiting the venue has already been huge, and we hope we can use the opportunity to shout about the significant environmental benefits that this method of agriculture can bring. We’re hoping the local community can become heavily involved in the running and activities in the farm, and end up seeing this as an asset to be explored and enjoyed.”
The farm is open to the public, who can visit to see produce growing. The site is open 12:00-11:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Those who want to taste the vertically farmed produce can pick up a free salad bag from the Spark York’s General Store at Unit 3 on Thursday mornings from 9:30-11:00 a.m. and Saturdays from 8:30-10:00 a.m. (or until the stock has gone).