The future of vertical farming in the UK looks set to propagate with more investment being funnelled towards a more sustainable food system.
Sustainability-led alternative investment manager Foresight Group has agreed to invest in Harvest London, to expand the vertical farming industry and enable the company to develop a new state-of-the-art farm to grow crops vertically stacked in layers under fully controlled conditions.
The partnership has secured a 140,000sq ft property in Beddington, South London, following Foresight’s agreement to aid the expansion of the controlled environment agriculture company.
Harvest London was founded in the capital in 2017 by Chris Davies and Matt Chlebek, who opened its first, proof-of-concept farm, in Walthamstow in 2018. In 2020, the company opened a second farm in Leyton, following a Crowdfunding campaign through Seedrs, which enables growth-focused businesses to raise capital and a community in the process.
Since its inception, the company has grown more than 100 different crops, from herbs and salads to specialist ingredients, supplying restaurant and food service groups, meal kit providers and food manufacturers. It aims to create a network of data-driven vertical farms, all with the same mission of transforming food sustainability in our cities.
Harvest London, like Acre, is a B Corporation, having gone through a rigorous accreditation process requiring it to display socially and environmentally responsible practices relating to areas including water use and waste, staff pay and corporate transparency. There are around 1,200 B-Corp-certified companies in the UK, spanning 58 industries, all working to use business as a force for good.
To date, Harvest London has constructed two farms, grown more than 100 different crops using hydroponic vertical farming techniques, and partnered with brands such as Pizza Pilgrims and Compass Group.
The increasing demand for locally-grown produce has driven the requirement for expansion, which will help boost its presence in key retail markets, backed by strong positive feedback from existing customers.
Reassurance for food security
New farming techniques are required to reduce the negative environmental impacts that food production can cause, from soil degradation to land and water use. With rising concerns surrounding food security in the UK, Harvest London’s indoor vertical farming approach delivers high-quality year-round crops without chemical pesticides and reliance on appropriate weather conditions.
The controlled environment for growing crops reduces the amount of fertiliser needed, significantly shortens supply chains, and avoids river pollution. Shelf life is increased, which helps to combat food waste and emissions from transportation are reduced.
The new funding will allow Harvest London to expand its current operations and supply a range of salads and herbs to customers in London and beyond. The company currently operates a farm in East London, which has been producing crops since 2020.
Matt Hammond, a partner at Foresight, said: “Foresight is delighted to be working with Harvest London, a dynamic and growing company that will help the vital push towards a greener future for food production. This approach to farming will play a pivotal role in shaping a more sustainable future and meeting the country’s food needs. The next phase of expansion will positively impact job creation and stimulate the local economy.”
Chris Davies, the founder of Harvest London, said: “This investment is a sign that the vertical farming sector in the UK is maturing. While you might not yet have tasted something grown in a vertical farm, in the future, this type of produce is going to be on your menu, whether that’s from a supermarket, in prepared food, or eating out.
“Vertical farming is a technology that can complement British agriculture, helping us reduce our reliance on food imports, and give consumers fresher, more local ingredients. We want to make the UK a world leader in this exciting new industry.”
Tom Townsend, Principal Consultant - Agriculture, Food & Beverage – Sustainable Business at Acre UK, said: “There has been a lot of interest in this area for some time now, and whilst it remains a niche area in our agricultural supply chains, the expansion of Harvest London is the next step in expanding the footprint of vertical farming in the UK.
“How large vertical farming becomes remains to be seen and cannot be a distraction from the fundamental reform which is needed in traditional agriculture if we are to hit our net zero ambitions and deliver an inclusive, sustainable food system in this country.”
This latest Harvest London investment follows other investments by Foresight in UK greenhouses and a land-based sustainable aquaculture farm in Norway.