Grahame Dunling with UNS Farms talks about vertically grown vegetables and herbs in the Middle East. Upon asking how UNS Farms is different from other vertical farms, he says: “We are a company that wants to grow food for people, above anything else.”
They want to grow and provide more product lines, by expanding into other crops. They want to do this in a controlled way, that means building a commercially viable unit. Grahame has been in the industry for over 40 years, so he has the commercial experience to help the company down this pathway. There are some new product lines coming this year.
Growing fresh produce in 50° Celsius circumstances
When talking about vertical farms, people’s minds often directly go to the ‘power factor’ – how much energy is used in a vertical farm. “But think about this, how much does it cost to keep a ‘normal’ greenhouse at 22 °C, when it’s sunny outside? You can shade the greenhouse, but that means losing light, so you have to add LEDs to supplement the sunlight.” It can get up to 50° Celsius in the Middle East, so working in a warehouse helps keeping the heat under control. That allows for fresh salads to be grown all year round.
“Salads are a staple diet for many people whereas a micro green is mainly used as a garnish to decorate a dish or add flavour to a dish," says Grahame. "Baby leaf salads are used as a main salad dish, but normal salads can be unappealing and tasteless. We have chosen our varieties according to FACT: Flavour, Aroma, Culinary appeal, Texture."
“We grow our salads for the flavor, not for the quantity. We could produce more kilograms produce per m2 than we do, but that would mean a decrease in quality. Our aim is to produce quality products that keep customers coming back for more,” says Grahame.
COVID-19 has affected all businesses. Luckily UNS has a dedicated staff team that allowed them to keep working during these hard times. Grahame: “we supply supermarkets and retail outlets, so this market has not been as badly affected as the restaurant trade. The whole management kept coming in, as we had to change how we did things to ensure food and staff safety.” The company kept a social distancing rule. “After all, if the staff is expected to work than the management has to keep working as well, ensuring these standards were met and adhered to. We’re a food industry, and plants do not stop growing.”