"Young professionals are eager to get involved in such a new and exciting sector, with a desire to contribute to a sustainable world. However, what we are currently lacking is the necessary education in place to facilitate the passion we have seen," says Greg Short, CEO of Fyto Ltd, a modular farm unit supplier based in Newcastle, UK.
That's why FYTO is developing a school program to teach the next generation how to farm sustainably, eat healthily, and respect the natural world around them. Hydroponic growing can also be used as a tool to engage young people in STEM, covering all aspects.
FYTO is a startup that supplies modular growing equipment for vertical farms that can easily be scaled. In the commercial market, the units can be used for behind-the-bar cocktail garnishes, on-site restaurant fresh produce, classroom experiments, or full-scale research trials, and we have a solution for each.
The FYTO setup
Simple but effective
As Greg likes to put it, the design is intentionally simple but effective. "We see that the current market seems to be saturated at either end of the spectrum, with one end being a desktop novelty grow kit and the other end being large and expensive commercial grow racks. This leaves places like a restaurant with no solution to grow a fair amount of high-quality food in a way that they can afford or viably use for growing fresh produce in a business. "
Each unit can be adapted to suit the growing requirements for different crops and each shelf is self-contained so that growers can remove and dispose of any crops that fail or become diseased, without compromising other crops.
The growing units use an external and mobile pump system to deliver and remove the nutrient solution, meaning that operations can scale with demand, somewhat relieving the financial pressure placed on growers.
Systems for any use
As Greg notes, research in the hydroponics sector is still largely an open field, and the research that has been conducted is strongly protected by organizations. "With our equipment, we give researchers a flexible, affordable, and easy-to-use solution for a range of experiments, and hope that this will enable the advancement of the sector in general."
Almost anything can be grown in the system, yet, some are more productive and economical than others. Leafy greens, herbs, and microgreens are the fastest and easiest to grow and normally take around a month to mature, as Greg points out. Yet, the team has grown peppers, tomatoes, chilies, and beans very successfully and can be a fantastic resource once fruited. "We have even grown carrots and potatoes; however, we think these crops are still best suited to traditional agriculture for now."
The units are stacked mist layer-DWC reservoirs with horticultural-specific lighting and dedicated oxygenation for each growing level. This allows for the growth of a wide range of crops without the need for configuration, making it easy to use for anyone. This also gives a bunch of freedom for experimentation for users at home, in schools, or in research facilities.
Demand from restaurants
"Over the past year, we have been supplying restaurants in the local area with our hyper-local produce, which is delivered on the same day as harvest, and transported by e-bike. This has given our customers something to shout about on social media, advocating for sustainability and, in turn bringing in more customers," Greg says.
Elaborating on that, Greg explains that the feedback has been absolutely heartwarming as they didn't find anything like this elsewhere, quality-wise. Growing hydroponically on-site for a restaurant allows diners to physically view where the ingredients come from, adding to the experience.
On top of that, with the controlled environment sector growing rapidly, there comes an opportunity for research and development. According to Greg, there is an increasing demand for new technology, materials, and knowledge, to increase the yield and quality of hydroponically grown produce. "Our units provide a viable option for academics to conduct research at an affordable price, be it student projects, PhD research, or commercial trials," he notes.
"We hope that the demand for local and sustainable produce continues to grow over the coming years, and that vertical farming becomes a huge part of that, creating a better food system for all," Greg concludes.