Urban farms on rooftops and underground
City agriculturalists are harnessing technologies such as LED bulbs, 3D printers and data analysis to speed up growth and create farms virtually anywhere.
Produced, filmed and edited by Petros Gioumpasis.
I've noticed a big change in terms of people being interested in urban farming, growing in urban environments.
I was really interested in this type of production and how you could look at food and agriculture and more of a circular way.
We grow fresh produce sustainably underneath the streets of London.
One of the interesting things about London, keeping bees in London is how inventive people are about where they're going to keep them. So here it's like an old graveyard that people don't use, but places like, you know, areas in parks, we get churches, rooftops. I've got bees even on parapets, you know, on platforms. So, you know, people are trying to fit bees into their lives as safely as possible.
We should be thinking about the way that we use resources and space and inputs into food. And for me, that's really what aquaponics is about. It's a combination of two well-established farming practises, aquaculture, farming fish, and hydroponics, growing in a nutrient solution without soil. We take the wastewater from our aquaculture system. And we use that as the nutrients for our plants that are growing completely indoors in a controlled environment, vertically stacked hydroponic system where we control the irrigation, the air, the humidity, the temperature, and we use LED lighting to grow the plants.
We're in an old World War II air raid shelter. We selected this. We looked at the economics of building a vertical farm and doing it in an office block. And the economics of it really didn't sort of make sense. Obviously, the cost of real estate is a much more expensive than what was an unloved resource like a World War II air raid shelter. And we find ourselves staying here with 70,000 square feet to expand into in the future.
So the technology that we use down here is a combination of tried and tested hydroponics that's been used in agriculture for, commercially, for the last 30 years and then the LEDs where the technology really comes in. Over the last five years the improvement in technology and the light spectrums from those LEDs has really allowed us to start growing in unusual spaces like underneath London.
The plants that we're currently growing are a range of products, microherbs and baby leaf products. So we grow pea shoots, which is kind of the base of our products and range of about 50 microherbs from coriander, red mustard, wasabi mustards, and they all go into our salad mixes.
When people look at a bee hive, and they don't know what's going on in there. It's changing massively year round. So at this time of year, they're sort of closing up shop a bit for winter. You've taken the honey off. You've got to make sure they still have enough stores for them. And then they go into a kind of winter cluster. And then they warm up again in the spring. The queen starts laying again. And they start to expand up and start to make honey. And that's really June, July, August time. And you might take honey off in July and the end of August, beginning of September. And then you're going around the year again.
Over the last two years, we've sold produce and fish to customers all across London. And that's ranging from very small independent delis through to larger restaurant chains, also selling into retail through different customers both on the high street and online.
In March '16, we started commercial production. And then we moved through the end of last year to start supplying retail, so the start of '17 starting supply retail. So, yeah, it's really kind of ramped up moving through food service into the retail sector over the last sort of couple of years.
You can't supply enough for the local demand. And it's sort of a byproduct if we do. But, actually, you know, I have a waiting list every year for honey. And it goes really quickly. So I'm sold out within about a month of having all the honey in.
What are the benefits of keeping bees in the city apart from producing honey is you're introducing in one hive, say, you know, about 40,000 pollinators to that area. And you're also keeping that colony going and healthy. When they're actually-- you know, UK-wide, bees are under quite a lot of stress so, you know, people are finding out how to look after them when they bees themselves at the moment are at a critical time.