Grow Up FARM has recently launched a new product, named Eat-Grow-Repeat: small pea shoots that grow on a small hemp-square in a bag. "Rip off the upper section of the bag, and the bottom of the bag is now the pot," Lasse Vilmar, Chief Executive Grower of the company, explains. "Place the bottom of the bag with pea plants on your table and the growth will continue. Harvest completely fresh pea sprouts for your salad bowl. Keep watering and within a week they will grow out once again."
Developing innovative packaging is a new field for Grow Up FARM, as the company has been working with mainly sprouts for three generations already. The Ringsted-based family business started with Lasse’s grandparents growing sprouts in the ‘60s. Lasse himself took over in 2013. “At that time, we were looking for new products to shoot the market. Our eyes fell on Koppert Cress and other companies that were doing microgreens. All of a sudden, it was like a light bulb that went off, and it felt like a natural direction to pursue”.
GrowUp FARM owners Jens Essemann and Lasse Vilmar
The new product had already been planned for quite some time, but the launch was accelerated the world-wide plot twist that the pandemic created. “We had just geared up and planned everything for the summer season to start, with all its parties and weddings. In the end, we only got to deliver one or two full batches before the lock-down”.
Although the company for years had focused on companies rather than local customers, selling to people in the area got them through the first lock-down. “We searched for Facebook community pages to advertise to local customers. Luckily we got rid of most of our stock that way, even though we only sold in large commercial-sized boxes. We combined different varieties in one box so that people had a chance to eat all of it. I even borrowed a van from a nearby car dealer on which I taped some of our roll-up banners. Like an old-school farmer I stood there, selling my produce. It was a fun period, but also nerve-wracking because we had no ideas when we could be able to continue our regular growing process again”.
Unlike the sprouts that Lasse has been working with for years, the microgreens are grown in a vertical farm. The building once was a poultry slaughterhouse, and the coolers have been turned into growing chambers. Isolation is important, as sprouts are grown completely in the dark. Even more importantly, isolation is needed for strict hygiene reasons.
“Growing sprouts is considered high-care production in the EU. The beans need a warm and moist environment, which are ideal circumstances for bacteria and molds. You need to be sure that the equipment is sterilized and that the water is drink-water quality. It takes a lot of control and procedures”. Most of the watering, which takes 400 liters every 3 hours per batch, is for cooling purposes. “The temperature in the core of the sprout-mass can rise to 70 degrees, so the sprouts could basically cook themselves”.
The sprouts are sold to both supermarkets and retailers, which makes it less vulnerable regarding covid-restrictions. Also, the Eat-Grow-Repeat plants are sold exclusively to supermarkets. “We’re doing 2000 bags delivery each week, and in a month we will launch the product to other supermarkets. The reviews have been raving, so we are quite proud of what we have achieved so far”.
Keeping an eye on the environment
The company strives to keep its packaging material as environmentally friendly as possible. The foodservice products are 100% recyclable, consisting only of FSC-cardboard and organic biodegradable hemp. Its current consumer packaging only consists of 6g of recyclable PE-plastic and organic biodegradable hemp, no pots or cardboard.
The Eat-Grow-Repeat product, with pea shoots
“Our farm is not much different from other vertical farms,” says Lasse. We are entirely electrified, and we have chosen an energy company (NaturEnergi) that pushes sustainable energy. This way our energy is constantly getting more sustainable.” In 2019 approximately 50% of the energy produced in Denmark came from wind and solar. “Ultimately we aim to plaster our roof with solar panels,” Lasse adds.