Operating mainly in the basement of Liverpool Life Sciences UTC in the Baltic Triangle, Paul Myers and Jens Thomas first introduced Farm Urban five years ago to inspire people to reimagine our relationship to food and its impact on ourselves and the planet.
The concept of urban farming in a metropolis such as Liverpool does not seem too improbable when we have large green spaces such as Sefton, Calderstones, Croxteth County and Stanley Parks. Yet, the existence of such a farm in the Baltic almost sounds unconvincing when referring to growing crops underground… vertically…using only shallow amounts of water… not soil.
Liverpool’s first hydroponic vertical farm
Liverpool’s first hydroponic vertical farm is home to green crops, such as crisp heads of lettuce, basil, mint, parsley, chards and kale- crops that surpass the taste of your usual supermarket offerings (in my humble opinion).
Farm Urban emphasises its vision and mission to better people’s lives through good, healthy and honest food, and bring communities together to think more about what we consume, and its impact on our body and the wider environment.
Jens, also the Technical Director, explained, “Farm Urban is many things. It is a company that tries to do the right thing. What we are trying to do at Farm Urban is look at food like a nexus that connects so many different things.”
Dr Jens Thomas, co-founder and Technical Director
Paul, also the Managing Director, furthered this, “Farm Urban is a collection of people who really, really care about what they do and really believe in what we’re doing, which is trying to find alternative ways to produce food and help people reconnect to food and relate to it.
Dr Paul Myers, co-founder and Managing Director
As the year enters its final months, Farm Urban launches its Greens for Good project as an additional offering to reach and connect local businesses and schools across the city using fresh food that is pesticide-free and requires significantly fewer amounts of water than conventional farming.
“Greens for Good is our latest offering, which is the way that we are combining our growing and education outreach activities. So, it kind of brings a lot of what we’re about together, under one roof”
“It’s a way that businesses can buy the freshest, most nutritious produce for their employees, and in doing that they can support us by supplying this fresh, nutritious produce to local schools who really need it, but also to support our education programmes.”
The mentioned education programmes teach children about the alternative, more productive, sustainable and valuable ways in which to produce and engage with food.
Jayne Goss, Operational Director, spoke about this, “In working with the students [at Liverpool Life Science UTC] and delivering enrichment activities, we really started to see how a lot of the students would get really excited about seeing what we were doing and trying to find solutions to real-world problems.
“We’re big believers in this learning by doing approach, and so it was really embedding the programmes that we were doing with the students here with that ethos, and just letting them build systems.
“We were there to support them and just let them get creative, come up with ideas, build things, test things, learn along the way, and it really worked. It really sparked the imagination of a lot of the young people here.”
STEM & Enterprise
Farm Urban’s endeavours did not stop there but enhanced over the last few years to reach more primary and secondary schools across Liverpool. Farm Urban developed STEM and enterprise-based programmes to give students frameworks and tools and set them challenges to improve themselves and the dexterities that they develop, which can later be employed to resolve these issues effectively.
“That is what is really exciting about the Greens for Good model. It is that this is what we’re now giving local businesses and local people the opportunity to support. So by buying the greens from us, they’re really getting the chance to support and underpin a lot of this work and enable us to go out there and do more of it” Jayne said.
Farm Urban’s vision does not discontinue here. Though the latest project is Greens for Good, the team mentions that there are hopes to supply more produce, and to more people in the future.
“Theoretically, you can grow any crop hydroponically or aeroponically, but I think leafy greens make the most sense at the moment,” explained Paul.” They work really well and, actually, one of the most highly wasted crops because the shelf life is so short, they’re really perishable.
“It makes sense to start with the food that is most perishable, so that is the leafy greens and the hubs. Rather than importing them from southern Spain and Northern Africa, we should grow them close to the city, where we can supply them while they are still alive and have maximum nutritional density.”
The company continues its research and will use this project as a pioneer model before they have the capabilities and as much understanding to make growing food in cities as sustainable and affordable for individual consumers as they are able to; for this reason, Urban Farm decided to start with businesses and for schools.
Jens feels positive about the prospective demands for vertical farming, addressing his hopes for ‘gentle world domination, “I’d love to see a model of sustainable small scale urban farms that would just spread throughout the UK, maybe the world, so you have got farms that are providing a real need for fresh, nutritious produce, to the people that need it most.
“In doing that you’re basically creating a new industry. You’re creating jobs in those areas, you’re supplying something that’s needed for you, then creating more economic activity so that people that live there can afford to buy that produce as well.
So, I’d love to see that model kind of spread far and wide. You already have companies like Patagonia that are doing this, but it’s something that I would like to see more and more of as companies really think about what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they can do that in the best way possible.”