Did you realise that on average, our food journeys 1,500 miles to make it to our plates? We all know that food travels as well as a fractious toddler on a plane! It’s packed, repacked, refrigerated and resold many times over and by the time it makes it to the consumer it has been stripped of much of its taste, texture and aroma, not to mention its nutrients.
One third of the world’s population currently work in agriculture, producing food not only for themselves but for the 54% of the Earth’s inhabitants who live in urban areas. The vast majority of these growers use conventional agricultural methods, which expend huge amounts of fossil fuels, driving soil erosion, water depletion and deforestation to extreme levels. The process of industrial farming is simply unsustainable. We are living at a tipping point in human history – what will happen when this system starts to collapse? How will we cope when demand outstrips supply and we can no longer rely on the supermarket giants to feed our every need?
Time is of the essence and it is vital to consider how we can start to grow and distribute food in a more responsible way. Consider a future where cities can feed their inhabitants independently, slashing food miles and creating direct links with consumers, bypassing distribution networks, wholesalers and retailers. Save the Earth Co-operative believe that this future is a tangible one and that is why we have founded The UrbanLeaf™.
Introducing The UrbanLeaf™
The UrbanLeaf™ is Save the Earth’s very first community initiative, as voted for by the co-operative’s management board. Plans are underway to build a flagship urban vertical food manufacturing facility in the Borough of Gedling, located in the city of Nottingham, UK. The facility will produce 10,000 salad heads, soft fruit punnets and herbs per week, supplying local families and businesses with nutritious organic produce fresh from the harvest to the plate within hours. Our aim is to create a sustainable enterprise and demonstrate a business model for an urban vertical food manufacturing facility that can be rolled out in other communities across the UK and beyond.
The UrbanLeaf™ – Our Vision
Imagine looking down from a bird’s-eye view and seeing the rooftops of your city clad with lush green, instead of concrete. Envisage venturing through the streets in your neighbourhood and finding walls, spare land, residential gardens and abandoned buildings all growing an abundance of food. Picture the trees, bushes and shrubs in your local parks bearing fruits and nuts. Let’s not forget our pollinators and insects – nature and wildlife will flourish as well as humans in a plentiful system. The benefits for health, wildlife and the planet are myriad.
Giving Back to the Community
The UrbanLeaf™ proposes to set up an all-inclusive training and development programme alongside its food manufacturing facility to teach local communities about the advantages of fresh food production. From consumers who wish to be less reliant on traditional supermarkets to children and disadvantaged groups such as the homeless and ex addicts, we will aim to provide knowledge and skills which enable people to become increasingly self-sufficient. Restricted access to wholesome foods plays a significant part in the obesity crisis, so this educational backdrop to how a food manufacturing facility operates will help demonstrate the benefits of nutritious produce and how to cultivate it. Our ultimate goal is to train individuals into employment, either within Gedling or further afield, as The UrbanLeaf™ continues to expand. Initially, we intend to create three full-time paid positions within Nottingham, with an additional three to four part-time roles.
Promoting Responsible Growing Methods
1. Using no new land
The Earth’s population is rapidly increasing – it currently stands at 7.5 billion and is projected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050, with 70% of its inhabitants crammed into cities. With space at a premium, it is essential to optimise usage of every last square foot when it comes to growing food responsibly. Multi-layer hydroponics, also known as vertical food manufacturing is the practice of growing food in vertically stacked layers and / or vertically inclined surfaces. The UrbanLeaf™ will use greenhouses and polytunnels that stretch upwards instead of sprawling outwards – imagine these cropping up in the grounds of schools, hospitals and nursing homes in your area, making use of the existing grounds to provide fresh, natural food for local children, the sick and the elderly.
2. Using no pesticides, herbicides and fungicides
Instead of using soil, the hydroponic growing method cultivates plants in solutions containing nutrients such as potassium and nitrogen. These flow down into the stacked trays of plants, while above them low-energy LEDs enable optimum photosynthesis, a method that uses much less water and energy than open soil farming. Because the crops are enclosed, they don’t get affected by predators or toxic substances, meaning they require no pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, which pollute the environment in agricultural runoff.
3. Using solar energy
By utilising solar panels, The UrbanLeaf™ will draw enough energy from the sun during daylight hours to both power the food manufacturing facility and profit by selling energy back to the National Grid. The UrbanLeaf™ is registered as an SME (Small and Medium-sized enterprise) and Save the Earth’s Emlyn Mousley, who is spearheading the initiative, is currently forging a partnership with The University of Nottingham and has been in talks with Tim Saunders, a Business and Development Officer within the Energy Innovation and Collaboration team. The university have some bright ideas to benefit the project, including tasking two students to develop an energy usage application that will switch the food manufacturing facility between energy suppliers to ensure that the best value for money energy is harnessed at all times.
4. Selecting food for taste, smell and texture
Another clear advantage of producing food locally is the rich diversity this can yield. Take tomatoes, for example – were you aware that it is possible to grow over 500 different varieties of tomatoes in a greenhouse? I’d hazard a guess that most of us have sampled a dozen at most. This is because tomatoes grown using industrial methods are chosen for their transportability above their taste. Isn’t it about time we chose flavour above toughness? After all, who wants tomatoes as hard as rocks?!
The UrbanLeaf™ – Feeding Local Needs
The more food we produce indoors, the less susceptible we are to environmental crises that disrupt crops and send prices skyrocketing, such as the drought in 2012 that devastated the corn crop in the US. Nottingham-based chilli providers Alessandra and Michael Crowe who run The Crowes know all too well how challenging it is to maintain a consistency in flavour and strength of produce when their supply is dictated by the changing seasons and the mercy of the elements. During UK summertime, chillies can be grown in abundance with their prices correspondingly low, but come the winter months prices skyrocket due to lack of local availability, with the chillies shipped in from far-flung corners of the globe at a premium. When chillies are grown outdoors in soil, their flavour and quality is significantly affected by temperature and levels of rainfall. Conversely, the indoor vertical food manufacturing method championed by The UrbanLeaf™ takes the doubt out of food production, generating a regular supply of produce all year round with the consistency of brand that customers expect.
Alex Bond, an enterprising chef who currently runs a Supper Club at Nottingham’s Wired Cafe every Friday and Saturday, is set to launch his very own local restaurant Alchemilla, serving contemporary British cuisine. It opens on 1st August 2017 and is taking bookings now. Formerly a chef at Nottingham’s only Michelin starred restaurant Sat Bains, Alex has high hopes that his venture will achieve its own Michelin star in due course. When Alex and The UrbanLeaf™ shared their burgeoning plans, Alex said that he found the proposal of a vertical food manufacturing facility highly appealing. At present he grows seasonal food on his allotment, sourcing the remainder from wholesalers – from week to week the variable produce available dictates the meals he can cook and serve. Using a local, consistent supplier such as The UrbanLeaf™ would not only keep prices down but would enable Alex to develop his menus.
Once suitable premises have been identified and secured for the initial project, Save the Earth will launch three key campaigns to support the creation and development of The UrbanLeaf™.
We are currently in the planning process to launch our first food production facility and aim to raise £100,000 to put this into action. We will achieve this by pursuing two funding strategies:
- Utilising web-funding and crowd-funding streams, the first campaign will seek revenue to fund the production of fresh, organic, pesticide-free, local produce and generate local employment. 100% of all donations received will directly fund these objectives.
- By reaching out to local businesses and partners as well as targeting funding from grant providers and local matched-funding agreements from the government, our second campaign will seek to generate sufficient funding and support to cover the working capital, planning and set-up costs of our operations.
We already have a project team in place who are working on this and we estimate it will take three to four months to do the groundwork with the campaigns commencing in Autumn 2017.
- In the meantime, our third campaign will see us apply for a grant of up to £10,000 to launch a sister project to our main project. The plan is to set up an e-commerce site selling a variety of growing kits, vertical towers, hydroponics, wormeries and composting items, to enable people to grow salads, herbs and soft fruits at home. In addition to this, the web shop will sell homemade detergents, soaps, toothpaste and seed bombs. We will also run educational classes and paid courses to teach people how to be more energy efficient and self-reliant in regards to food production. A full explanation of the The UrbanLeaf™ projects can be found here.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you would like to know more.
The UrbanLeaf™ are excited to announce our partnership with The Urban Worm, a sustainable, environmental enterprise which promotes the circular management of natural resources by utilising earthworms. Founded in Nottingham by Anna De La Vega, The Urban Worm is committed to empowering organic, local food movements and The UrbanLeaf™ warmly welcome their wealth of knowledge surrounding the food manufacturing process. By using The Urban Worm’s wheelie bin wormeries, we will turn our waste product into a resource that can be sold to local people who wish to grow their salads in soil. Check at The Urban Worm’s Website and Facebook Page to unearth more about what they have to offer.
As well as the aforementioned University of Nottingham, The UrbanLeaf™ has received a pledge of support from Gedling Borough Council. Emlyn Mousley has met with the council’s leader Councillor John Clarke and his team to discuss the possibility of finding an ideal building or area in the borough to house the food manufacturing facility as well as some space for allotments or community gardens.
When the environmental journalist and local legend Penney Poyzer (otherwise known as the Queen of Green) got wind of the project she invited Emlyn to sit on a monthly panel in collaboration with Nottingham City Council to discuss putting Nottingham forward as a sustainable food city, in a bid to secure funding awarded by the Sustainable Food Cities initiative.
In addition to this, we are currently in negotiations with several growing equipment suppliers such as Aponic Ltd and Saturn Biopoinics to secure training and operational partnerships and acquire the expertise needed to set up our first facility.
Are you a local business owner who would like to partner with The UrbanLeaf™? If so, we’d love to hear from you!
If you are based in Nottingham, have some spare time over the summer and are interested in volunteering then please get in touch. We are looking for people to become part of our planning group, help out with marketing and market research, raise sponsors, garner support and grow an online following for The UrbanLeaf™, ahead of our autumn launch.
If you’d like to lend a hand, please visit our dedicated site and complete the contact form.
To join The UrbanLeaf™ community, please like our Facebook Page – a hub where you can share articles, inspiration and expertise, as well as receiving the latest updates on our Nottingham venture and future vertical food manufacturing initiatives.