Vertical farming comes to Chiswick

Image above: Greenhaus team Harrison Pritchard and Nick Stace

A response to climate change and the fragility of food production

“What is ‘vertical’ farming?” I hear you ask. Indoor farming, with controlled temperatures and lighting, simulating ideal growing conditions, but organised in such a way that you can stack crates of plants up a wall, so that many more are grown per square foot of land.

Why do we need it? So that growers can make the most of available space, leaving traditional growing on farmland (‘horizontal’ farming) for the crops that cannot be grown this way, such as wheat and barley and potatoes.

The thinking is that with climate change jeopardising the production of food, we will be more self-reliant, rather than being dependent on imported food. You only have to look at the temperatures in southern Spain this week, which has just recorded the hottest April temperature on record at 38.8C, with the prospect of forest fires and drought, to see the wisdom in this.

It also cuts down on food miles, providing food which is as local as it could be, as fresh as it could be, without all the associated transport costs.

Vertical farming has been tried and tested in America, where it is big business, and now it has reached Chiswick.

Greenhaus Farms is a small start-up company which has a shipping container full of plants in the car park at Chiswick Business Park. Harrison Pritchard and his two co-founders Nick Stace and Georgie Harper-Wilde have been operating there since last September. This is their pilot scheme, and if all goes well they are hoping to expand across London and throughout the UK.

“We are growing something which will be ready every week” Harrison told The Chiswick Calendar. “We realised during Covid how fragile the food system is. It is getting more difficult to import from Europe, so we want to bring things as local as possible.”

They produce a full harvest every week, which they plan to continue doing all year round.

Image above: Greenhaus basil and rocket, grown at Chsiwick Park

“As fresh and local as can be”, available from Sam’s Larder on Turnham Green Terrace

They started selling their produce two weeks ago, initially just to Sam’s Larder on Turnham Green Terrace, where you can find their rocket and basil and soon also their lettuces.

Harrison has a degree in Biology and a masters in Plant Science from Southampton University, and his career so far has been in renewable energy, working with solar power and on large scale battery projects for Tesla.

Is it not a waste of energy to be growing plants indoors, where you could be utilising sunshine and rain?

“Using energy is only bad if you are getting it from bad sources” he said. They use 100% renewable, courtesy of Octopus energy.

“Vertical farming uses a lot less water” he told me. “It uses 95% less water because we circulate the water on a closed loop.

They were attracted to Chiswick Business Park because of their green credentials:

“They are quite good at making sure there isn’t any waste where there doesn’t need to be and quite good also at energy efficiency”, although the business park does not have solar panels on their buildings to produce thier own energy.

Why the plastic packaging? “Packaging is a nightmare” said Harrison. “Ideally we would like to sell it without any packaging, but it doesn’t keep fresh and the biogradable alternatives aren’t airtight.”

At the moment Greenhaus Farms is growing basil, parsley, rocket and coriander, lettuces and red vein sorrel. Their produce is “price comparable with high end supermarkets”, by which he means about 20% more expensive than M&S or Waitrose, but he says it is very high quality.

They have chosen to partner with Sam’s Larder because of the reputation of Sam’s Riverside restaurant and Sam Harrison’s reputation for being a champion of community initiatives. He buys vegetables from Hammersmith Community Farm.

Image above: Herb trimming

Harvests every seven weeks

As the plants are permanently growing in optimal conditions, with the warmth and light of a perfect spring day, (20-21 degrees during the day) they tend to grow big, and he says you will notice the stronger flavours and brighter colours.

What happens if there is a power cut? That would be disastrous, he says, although the Business Park does have back-up generators. They have experienced some teething problems, which is why they are taking it slowly.

They have started selling to restaurants and in time they would like to sell direct to consumers from the Business Park. Meanwhile they are sometimes to be found at Chiswick Food Market in Dukes Meadows, but they are not there every week.

A couple of other questions I had. Why the purple light? They just provide the plants with the red and blue mix of the colours of the spectrum they use. And do plants need sleep? Yes, they do, so they turn off the lights for eight hours over night.

From seed to harvest the process only takes seven weeks and they will keep going all year round.

Sam’s Larder is a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme. See their Club Card offer here: Sam’s Larder Club Card offer.