Member of the Sainsbury’s dynasty grows salad in shipping containers

Around the corner from the traffic-choked roundabout at Elephant and Castle, south-east London, are two unassuming shipping containers full of lettuce. In each, there are around 600 “heads” of various types. They grow vertically, lined up in rows, and are bathed in bright LED lighting which shifts between red and blue.

All are cultivated by Crate to Plate, a new urban farming company with designs on building sites across the UK. The company uses hydroponic technology to grow food in cities – close to where it will be consumed – in 40ft shipping containers.

Crate to Plate was founded in 2020, emerging during the pandemic with vertical farms popping up across London. There are now three farms on the Isle of Dogs and two in Kentish Town in addition to this one in Elephant and Castle. Mr Sainsbury says the next project will be in Stratford, before work begins to expand to Birmingham, and then Manchester.

“This month we’re putting five containers down in Stratford, just 100m from the Olympic Stadium,” he says. The idea, Mr Sainsbury says, is to produce “sustainable” salads, herbs, and greens in major cities, distributing them “efficiently” to restaurants and consumers by way of electric van or bike. Already, Crate to Plate has been selling to kitchens from Fortnum & Mason to the newly reopened fine-dining restaurant The Ledbury in Notting Hill, and from Francesco Mazzei’s Mayfair restaurant Sartoria to the Andreas greengrocer in Chelsea Green – a favourite of Nigella Lawson.

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