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“Vertical farming gives us the opportunity to create a demand-driven food system”

Starting the business in 2017 with a proof of concept, Harvest London was ready to construct a more high-tech farm. “We’ll only grow the requested demand of the customers,” says Chris Davies, CEO at Harvest London. “Everything is supply-based, however, this has resulted in food waste and a fundamentally broken food supply system. Our customers sign a long-term growing contract, selling the capacity to grow produce.”

Harvest London allows its customers control in letting them decide details of the specific crop they’re interested in, not only on things like taste, color but also packaging, frequency of deliveries. In addition to being grown to order, this gives them more control over their supply chain which they previously didn’t have, as normally they would take what they’d be given.

Matching supply to demand
Harvest London makes use of a ‘partners by design’ model, meaning everything cultivated is grown to order, matching supply to demand. Going from harvest to delivery within four hours as long as customers are London-based. Meaning they don’t grow for money's sake, as the company believes it has the most impact on cutting prices, margins and increasing food waste. Therefore, Harvest London works very closely with customers in order to truly understand their demand. This enables them knowing where the produce is going and who the produce is used by.

Variety focus
In its previous farm, the company was growing 10-15 things as they had a different business plan back then. Harvest London was growing several unique crops for Michelin restaurants. However, it was only growing 500 grams to one kilo at a time. Chris adds, “We focused on variety which was the most important thing back then. Now, we’ve learned from that and have the recipes and know-how still, but we’re growing five crops at the same time at a larger scale. Certain crops are viable at the moment, but that viability is a function of how well you can do things.” 

Quickly the company sold the business out and within three months, it was growing at 100% capacity. This resulted in turning customers away says Chris as they didn’t have more capacity. After meeting their maximum capacity the company ran some funding rounds in order to construct a bigger farm to increase production.

Emerging technologies
We’re fundamentally system integrators, using existing techniques from different industries, and have compiled all of those together. This ends up with a vertical farm.” According to Chris, many vertical farms are making the mistake by trying to be a hardware and vertical farming company at the same time. However, being a vertical farm is already hard enough on itself.

“We don’t play at the hardware space, at the base layer of hardware, however, we add value to the value-added technology space. We built a platform that essentially operates as the brains of our farm, regardless of the hardware, growing method, etc. It doesn’t matter from a hardware perspective, here’s a software platform that allows our data-driven operations. The thinking is that by taking this approach you’ll be able to break down silos of data. This is done by sharing data across different hardware providers and constantly learn, not being tied to any kind of hardware ecosystem,” Chris affirms.

The green infrastructure space
In the shortest term doing things with renewable resources, says Chris, is kind of a stop-gap measure. It’s the right thing to do in the short term, but based on the significant energy costs a vertical farm has, you have to take a more holistic approach. There’s a lot of money present in the market, the concept of green finance ‘greening the financial system’ hasn’t reached its potential yet. “The way you’re really going to transform food production is by thinking more holistically about food production within the context of a larger infrastructure. The most success we had with investors, the ones that already understand the green infrastructure space. If you already understand the economics of solar farming, wind farming or anaerobic digestion, then you understand the concept behind investing in vertical farming. Very high capital expense at the start of the process, but very productive for the lifetime of the asset”

Co-locating vertical farms
However, when wanting to make a difference in food systems, according to Chris, is building more vertical farms, which is high capital intensity. More and more, vertical farms will be treated as green infrastructure projects. It’s almost like the multiplier effect when already owning a solar farm and anaerobic digester e.g. imagine a scenario of co-locating a vertical farm right next to these grids. You can create a very circular energy and food production system here. The hub and spoke model of vertical farming works really well. As about 85% of the produce comes out of the country, says Chris, a farm just outside London is still an exponential. We all know that in order to get the economy of scale, and efficiency, and maximizing your kilos per square meters. 

For more information:
Harvest London
Chris Davies, CEO