Harvest London

This interview details Harvest London, an indoor farming company based in the UK. The interview is with Matt Chlebek, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Harvest London.

Source: Harvest London

What is the origin story of Harvest London?

We started Harvest London in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, when it was becoming clear that people weren’t thinking enough about the fact that the UK was heavily reliant on food imported from the EU (and elsewhere). Vertical farming was being tried by a small number number of companies in the UK, and we thought that it could be used to help tackle some of the challenges of food sustainability and security.


We started with a tiny first farm in East London, to see if we could make this technology work for us, and pretty quickly we had managed to convince some top chefs to try our produce. Then the pandemic hit, but it turned out that food production was deemed an essential sector, and we were able to carry on. In fact, we built and moved to our second farm during the height of covid - which seems incredible now. 

Source: Harvest London

We did a crowdfunding campaign, raised some more from the Future Fund, which was set by the government to invest in startups during the pandemic, and picked up customers across the restaurant and food service sectors. Now we’re about to build what will be one of the largest and most technologically advanced vertical farms anywhere in the world.

Source: Harvest London


What are some of the biggest challenges facing Harvest London in the future? 

One of the biggest challenges for the vertical farming sector as a whole is energy. We use electricity to run the lighting and climate control systems, and it’s a big portion of our costs. Rather than treating energy as an afterthought, we’ve factored it into our modelling and planning. 

Source: Harvest London


While recent high energy prices have been difficult for some vertical farming companies, in the long run, it has actually made our produce more competitive against lots of traditionally-farmed crops, because field agriculture doesn’t have much option but to use fuel for farm vehicles, and so on. The direction of travel is for vertical farming costs to come down, just as climate change makes harvests from fields more erratic. 

We’re going through an energy transition, but Harvest London also needs to transition from start-up to scale-up, producing considerable volumes of fresh produce and becoming a brand consumers know and value: there will be challenges, but they’re exciting challenges. 

Source: Harvest London


What is unique about Harvest London compared to competitors? 

In part it’s about funding, and in part it’s about how we work. Many of the first wave of vertical farms (mainly in the US) raised lots of equity from VCs, and invested in developing their own hardware, and expanded quickly before they had really worked out the model to be profitable. We’re pleased that we’ve found an investor that is focused on sustainability and long-term returns, which is the model that we think vertical farming needs. We’ve also tried to turn the traditional producer-supplier relationship on its head, and instead of saying ‘this is what we grow, how much can we sell you?”, we start with their business, and offer them the capacity to grow what they need.  

Source: Harvest London


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

For a startup, raising funds and acquiring customers has obviously been key, but we also pay a lot of attention to production efficiency - how much we can grow in a square metre in a year. We’ve learnt a huge amount since we opened our current farm in 2020, and significantly increased how much, and what we can grow. We’re a B-Corporation, so we care about our impact in lots of different areas. Environmental sustainability is very important obviously, so we track how much water we use and where our energy comes from, but also that we are treating our people well - we’re a living wage employer, for example. 

Source: Harvest London


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

There are lots of technical things we didn’t know - I flooded the farm several times in the early days! But that has actually been an important learning process, so that we can now design a much bigger and more complex farm - with help from lots of specialists. I don’t think we appreciated just how long some things take, like the fundraising process, and hiring the right people. At the beginning, when it was just the two of us, we had to do everything ourselves and just make it happen, but now we’re putting in place the processes you need as a growing company. 

Source: Harvest London


How can people connect with you or learn more about Harvest London?

Keep an eye on our LinkedIn and Instagram, and if you’re a buyer interested in what we could supply from our next farm, email sales@harvestfarms.ag.

Source: Harvest London

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