by Callie

London’s 1st Commercial Aquaponic Farm

It’s also a first for all of the United Kingdom. An exciting milestone for Kate Hofman and Tom Webster at GrowUp Box, who have finally had their dream come to fruit. After a couple years of growing tilapia and veg in a traveling shipping container with a greenhouse on the roof, the team has the funding and support needed to expand their operation in a permanent home.

It’s been a busy week at GrowUp who is currently set up at Roof East on the 8th level of Stratford Multi Storey Car Park where they were surprised by a visit from Princess Anne on Wednesday. She joined the rest of the audience for a presentation of their little urban farm, and also toured the facility getting a closeup look at what all is involved in high tech growing of fish and veg. A royal visit is newsworthy indeed, only to be followed a day later by the announcement that all their persistence and hard work has paid off.

From Box to Building

Planning permission has been granted, and their capital is in place after months of collecting seed funding, investors, and grants through Ignite Social Enterprise,  InnovateUK Agri-Tech Catalyst, and the Climate-KIC accelerator.

GrowUp’s new home is an old warehouse in Beckton, East London that’s large enough to house an aquaponics system capable of producing over  44,000 pounds (20,000 kg) of salad greens and herbs, and 8,000 pounds (4,000 kg) of fresh fish a year. That’s a huge step up from the production capabilities of the GrowUp Box, but the small system fulfilled it’s duty in creating awareness of closed system growing of food in urban spaces. It also helped them tremendously in acquiring funding – its much easier to sell an idea that people can see working, feel it’s success at production, and taste the results, than it is something that exists only on paper and CAD mockups. Especially when the box was not difficult to haul around and follow the crowd – a rather savvy approach really, because it drew a lot of attention.

An Established Market

One error that some large commercial aquaponics startups have made is assuming that it will be easy to enter the market from their first harvest. This was a huge part of why Aqua Vita in New York failed, they thought big scale harvests would allow them to walk right into selling to area stores, ignoring the already established competition, including whopper salad farms like Dole and Green Giant.

Kate was wise to develop a buying group for GrowUp’s greens and herbs with discerning chefs who want nothing but the best quality available at optimum freshness. The plan going forward is that the majority of their harvests will be sold to local restaurants, which means not competing against Big Ag at all. They’ve go ready and waiting buyers in place, and more will step into line as the harvest size increases. The new space gives them about 8,000 sq. ft. (800 m2) – like 70 times the growing room they had in the box. Tons more locally grown lettuce, microgreens, herbs, and fish is on the way to posh dining establishments in London. Harvesting at the newest sustainable farm in the UK is set to begin by Fall 2015.

Sustainability & Economy

Up until now they’ve harnessed natural sunshine to provide their plants with the energy they need to create their own food, but moving under a solid roof means resorting to grow lighting. Since leafy plants do well under less powerful lights than those that bear fruit, GrowUp can use energy-saving LED lights for everything they grow. It will keep productions costs as low as possible in their new converted warehouse location, and maintain a small fossil fuel footprint as well. Sustainability, reducing food waste, and fresh food for urbanites has always been a major driving force behind this project since the idea stage.

They will also be creating jobs in East London, and since aquaponic farming is not something they teach in school, its a huge opportunity for young people to learn a breaking technology trade hands on. Growing paychecks and steady employment in such a promising industry will definitely benefit the local economy.

Congratulations Kate and Tom on turning your dream into a reality. Best of luck in making it a huge success!

Learn more on the GrowUp website.

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Only strangers knock on the door at Callie's house. People who know her don't bother if the sun is shining - they know to look in the garden.