Farm Urban UK

This interview details Farm Urban, an indoor farming company based in the UK. The interview is with Jens Thomas, Technical Director and Co-Founder of Farm Urban.

Source: Farm Urban

What is the origin story of Farm Urban?

I started Farm Urban with my friend Paul, who I met while we were both studying for PhDs in different areas of biochemistry. We'd both become disillusioned by how many decades it would take before our research impacted people's lives and wanted to find a quicker way to have a positive impact in the world. We discovered permaculture and then aquaponics, which opened the door to growing food in urban areas and starting to reimagine the cities of the future.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Farm Urban in the future?

When we started 10 years ago, no one had heard of hydro- or aquaponics and thought we were crazy, so it took a lot of hard work to prove that we were serious and that what we're doing has the potential to be transformational in so many ways. Raising finance was always difficult because what we're doing is so novel, so we mainly survived on grants and income from our education and outreach activities. Things are changing though, and now people are realising that what we're doing not only has the opportunity to change cities and people's lives, it can also be profitable too.

Source: Farm Urban

What is unique about Farm Urban compared to competitors?

We don't think that the unit economics of vertical farming stacks up against conventional farming yet - although we do think it will. We've therefore developed a holistic model that brings together urban farming with education and community-based outreach to provide high returns for social investors, validated with frameworks such as HACT and TOMS. Recently, we've been awarded government funding through Innovate UK that will allow us to work with leading plant scientists and hospital nutritionists to develop nutritionally-optimised produce that will be distributed in hospitals, paving the way for food to be seen as medicine.

We're also currently in the process of raising investment to develop a concept we call the Urban Oasis, which will be a quantum leap in our ability to shape the cities of the future. The Urban Oasis Combines vertical farms, urban allotments and mixed-use event space with F&B, on unused rooftop spaces. It is a visitor attraction for the public and sustainable urban regeneration opportunity for local authorities, generating annual ESG impact over £14m per site and offers Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) solutions for the construction industry.

Source: Farm Urban

How do you measure the impact of your company so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?

We measure all of our activity against out 5 impact aims:

  • Respecting planetary boundaries.
  • Improving health and wellbeing.
  • Creating learning opportunities.
  • Partnering with our community.
  • Researching holistically.

Source: Farm Urban

The impact that means most to us is the impact on people's lives and reducing some of the harms that agriculture can do to the planet. We're still a small company, but our impact in terms of lives changed and social value is orders of magnitude larger than you'd expect for a company with 15 employees. We've worked with thousands of school children, distributed food to those in need and developed successful products.

Alongside that, our revenue has grown consistently - we've achieved double or triple digit growth year on year for the past 8 years through constant innovation and improvements in efficiencies - and our number of employees has grown inline with that.

Source: Farm Urban

What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined the company?

That the first few years would involve carrying countless tons of farming equipment up and down stairs, and that I shouldn't have scripmed on those gym subscriptions. Also that being successful in vertical farming is about far more than just being good at growing plants, it involves a whole range of skills I didn't even know existed when I started.

Source: Farm Urban

How can people connect with you or learn more about Farm Urban?

We've a website www.farmurban.co.uk, which has information about us and contact details. You can find us on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, although we're usually too busy to be big social media users.

Source: Farm Urban

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