This interview details Below Farm, an indoor farming company based in United Arab Emirates. The interview is with Bronte Weir, Chief Development Officer at Below Farm.
What is the origin story of Below Farm?
When you think of mushrooms growing, you picture dark, damp and cold. But at Below Farm, we grow mushrooms in the desert. Not only that, we grow all year round, using local materials.
We have been fascinated by mushrooms and the wider mycelium potential for many years now. Inspired by that thought, the incubator for ideas that was Covid-19 brewed up a plan to grow mushrooms in the desert.
We established Below Farm in August 2021, and had our first harvest in May 2022. The intervening months were focused on solving the challenges that come when growing mushrooms in an arid climate – starting from the technology solutions for mushroom cultivation: they are designed for the temperate climates of Europe, North America & East Asia. Our co-founder, Wojciech Slowinski, an energy & electrical engineer with 10 years’ experience in the Middle East region was the innovative mind that we needed to solve these challenges.
We are now the region’s first specialty mushroom farm, growing varieties that have never been grown before in the UAE. We have established the region’s first mycelium lab, enabling us to grow from “seed to fruit” and teach mushroom species to grow on materials that are available in the desert environment.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Below Farm in the future?
As you can imagine, growing mushrooms in the desert has had its challenges. The existing solutions for growing mushrooms cannot be simply transplanted from Europe or East Asia to this environment: they are not designed to withstand the 50°C heat of the UAE summer; or the massive contamination risk posed by sand; or the windstorms that rampage through the desert landscape; or the fluctuations in humidity that this environment dictates.
We have had to innovate and localize to solve for these challenges, and we continue to learn and grow on this journey.
What is unique about Below Farm compared to competitors?
Below Farm is the only farm in the region to grow from “seed” to “fruit”: starting from mycelium in petri dishes; propagating it to mushroom spawn; into grow blocks via substrate production; and finally to fruiting, harvesting, packing and selling. By localizing everything, our mushrooms are freshest on shelf and bursting with flavour; and we are able to give our customers a broader range of mushrooms that haven’t been available before on the market.
Another thing that is unique about Below Farm, is that we grow mushrooms on date palm. In the Middle East, dates are by far the main crop, accounting for >35% of the agricultural land. But less than 5% of the weight of the plant is the fruit – the remainder is piled up in the desert in “palm graveyards” (it’s too hot or dry for decomposition to take place). Or its burnt.
So not only are we producing amazing fresh mushrooms locally, but we are doing so in a circular and local way: no small feat for a desert environment.
How do you measure the impact of your company so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
Fungi are nature’s tool in the circular economy – they breakdown organic matter that wouldn’t otherwise be recycled and bring it back into the circle of life. We measure the impact of our company by our contribution to the circular economy: how many tons of date palm we have converted into nutritious food.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined the company?
As a small business, you have the agility move fast, much faster than in big organizations: you have an idea, you can implement it quickly without rounds and rounds of meetings, reviews, approvals.
But, there is never one right way to do things or one right answer – we have learnt to try things, see what works, and, if it’s not working, take the hard decision to pivot. The critical learning has been how to identify early when something is not working so you can limit the losses.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Below Farm?
There’s also lots of great info on our website: www.belowfarm.ae
This interview details SecondBloom Auctions, a company based in the United States. The interview is with Chris Lange, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at SecondBloom Auctions. To learn more about SecondBloom Auctions and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Smart Oasis Farm, an indoor farming company based in the UK. The interview is with Suzanne Tate, Chief Design Officer at Smart Oasis Farm. To learn more about Smart Oasis Farm and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Tunable, a Nanotechnology Research company based in Norway. The interview is with Roar Hernes, Business Development Manager at Tunable. To learn more about Tunable and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Rift Labs, a cutting-edge light-based solutions provider based in Norway. The interview is with Halvard Aagaard, CEO of Rift Labs. To learn more about Rift Labs and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Biotalys, a Biotechnology Research company based in Belgium. The interview is with Toon Musschoot, Head of Investor Relations and Communications at Biotalys. To learn more about Biotalys and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details HerbaFabrica, an indoor farming company based in the Czech Republic. The interview is with Karolína Pumprová, Founder of HerbaFabrica. To learn more about HerbaFabrica and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details VaVersa, an indoor farming company based in the Netherlands. The interview is with Olivier Francescangeli, Co-Founder of VaVersa. To learn more about VaVersa and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Simply Grow Ltd, an indoor farming company based in the UK. The interview is with Sylwia Golebiowska, CEO of Simply Grow Ltd. To learn more about Simply Grow Ltd and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Collective Joy Farm, an indoor farming company based in Canada. The interview is with Tammara Maher, Founder of Collective Joy Farm. To learn more about Collective Joy Farm and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details TTA, an indoor farming technology provider based in the Netherlands. The interview was conducted with Peter Rietveld, Business Development Director at Eurogroep, and with Renko Schuil, Sales Manager Indoor Farming at TTA.View Full Interview