Bringing together key players in the UK Urban Agriculture industry. That is the goal of UK Urban AgriTech (UKUAT). The organisation helps growers, suppliers, researchers, to help each other out. UKUAT brings them together and is a platform for information and knowledge. In February of 2020, the collective formalised the organisation. The temporary board of 5 directors was formalised during the online AGM elections in March of this year.
With Mark Horler at its core, UKUAT started as an informal discussion forum between practitioners and researchers in the field who progressively fielded increasing interest and sought ways to pool their efforts and collaborate. Katia Zacharaki tells us about the organisation and what they do for the Urban AgriTech sector in the UK.
Small room at VFarm
UKUAT is a membership organisation welcoming organisations, institutions and individuals with an interest in the application of Agritech in urban environments. Growers of all scales and mandates, technology and energy suppliers, universities, consultants and individuals actively involved or even thinking about setting up a vertical farm, rooftop greenhouse project, community growing project, etc.. or developing policy, technology and services supporting the expansion of the urban agriculture industry, have somewhere to go in the UK to feed from it membership’s collective expertise, experience and drive.
So to conclude, anyone who has an interest in urban agritech is welcome to join. The most important advantage of membership is connecting with others. But there are also the issues of decision and policy making for the future of urban and peri-urban agricultural activities. “Urban agricultural technology is a very new topic. Very little has really been established yet, but we are innovating and that is exciting.”
Lettus Grow system
Interactions with policy makers, alongside other international organisations like Global GAP, is the key. Internally to the organisation, the members are organised into four groups where they can provide input and ideas - education & outreach, policy & advocacy, research & expertise, and publicity & promotion. “The organisation can work as a database pool, where members can access expertise and knowledge sharing can take place. For example members can refer within the organisation to identify potential partners for commercial or research projects and funding bids.”
Katia thinks that the Brexit will cause some uncertain times for the UK, but also that indoor farming and CEA can help provide sustainability and resilience. “We can turn that into an opportunity.” For now, however, mostly microgreens and lettuce are grown in these circumstances, so not products that people can eat all the time. Research and innovation are required to expand the amount of edible products that can be grown indoors and in urban settings.
Intelligent Growth Solutions integrated growth trays
UKUAT is currently working closely with Farm Tech Society and Global G.A.P. on inserting urban agritech into their certification scheme in. “Farm Tech Society is a well-established organisation for Controlled Environment Agriculture.
Urban farms tend to have high initial investment requirements, and that causes a lot of them to be very secretive about what they do exactly so they don’t get copied. “Some competition is good to stay in business, of course, but we think collaboration is better. We'd like to see UK cities contribute more to a fresh produce food system that is heavily import-dependent. We try to highlight this, which will hopefully cause more collaboration. Not everyone has to invent the wheel.”
The five directors are Mark Holder, the chairman, Johnny Stormonth-Darling the secretary and website wizard, Paul Myers the Treasurer, Oscar Rodriguez the Director of Policy and Katia Zacharaki is the Director of Communications. Paul is also the managing director of Farm Urban, Oscar owns consultancy Architecture & Food, and Katia is senior research engineer at Digital Farming.