CambridgeHOK is delighted to be playing a key role in an innovative project that will see thousands of leafy greens, fruiting crops, and culinary fungi grown in a 'vertical greenhouse' to supply an onsite restaurant, food hall, cookery school, and local businesses.
The unique project, led by Hampshire-based business Seedleaves.com, will see plants housed in a dedicated 480 sq m glasshouse facility designed and built by CambridgeHOK, growing in 210 towers, which each stand close to three meters high.
Having been in the planning stages for more than two years, the project has now been granted planning permission, with work to start on phase one – the building of the specialist glasshouse - in the New Year.
Seedleaves are approved UK suppliers and installers of Tower Farms – a growing system pioneering the expansion of both small and large urban farms worldwide. Until now, it has focussed mainly on supplying growing towers and hydroponic seedlings to individuals, as well as building three other Tower farms in the UK.
Their own project, at Applegarth Farm in Grayshott East Hampshire, will include 210 towers, each growing more than 40 plants – producing a broad range of fresh lettuce, herbs, edible flowers, tomatoes, strawberries, and micro herbs.
The plants will be grown aeroponically, which means with only water and nutrients and using just 5% of the water used while growing in soil.
A liquid nutrient solution, made of water and earth minerals, will be fed to the plants from the top of the 2.8m high towers, allowing the solution to cascade down the inside to oxygenate and feed exposed plant roots.
Alongside the towers, a unique space will specialize in producing a range of culinary and medicinal fungi, such as Lions mane, to supply both consumers and restaurants.
This new and innovative approach to food production has seen a surge in popularity in other areas of the world, notably in the Middle East, the US, and Europe.
There are now 300 tower farms around the world, in 50 different countries, using little space or energy – making them ideal for rooftop spaces – and requiring just 5% of the water normal agriculture does. It also requires no pesticides or fertilizers.
UK-leading project providing sustainably sourced food
William Benson, managing director of Seedleaves, believes the development could kick-start many similar projects in the UK.
"This is a really exciting project, and one we believe can lead the way in the UK in terms of hyper-local production of food in urban environments," he said.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of people watching the success of this project as it will demonstrate how food of the highest quality can be grown in places with limited space, in the most efficient and green way as there are no high energy costs either."
"We simply use the sun for heat and photosynthesis through natural light and the towers to grow vertically in the smallest possible space. It is all about growing high-quality produce onsite and reducing the carbon footprint involved in food production."
"Our aeroponic greenhouse will be at the heart of everything as it needs to produce a continuous supply of heritage fruit and vegetables to act as the sole supply chain for every single area of our business moving forward."
"Initially, that will be our deli, farm shop, cookery school, and restaurant. Moving forward, we have already been granted permission for the redevelopment of the entire six-acre site. We plan to build out a much larger artisan food hall and restaurant where guests will be able to enjoy dining within the greenhouse, taking home a range of line items cooked in our kitchens using greenhouse produce."
Alan Frampton, sales manager at CambridgeHOK, has been working with Seedleaves for the past two years preparing and planning the project. The 'vertical greenhouse' is the first step of the journey, with a target completion date of next May.
It will include highly sophisticated heating, irrigation, and screening systems to ensure maximum growth of not only the leafy produce but also tomatoes, white aubergines, and culinary and medicinal fungi in their own purpose-built spaces.
"This is a really exciting project and one which we are thrilled to be involved with at CambridgeHOK as we believe it will really demonstrate the advantages of growing produce in this unique method," he said.
"William and his team have an incredible vision for what they want to achieve at Applegarth Farm over the coming years, and the new vertical greenhouse is essential for all they want to achieve. We've worked together closely to ensure we get everything right to provide the perfect environment to produce a large range of food to supply the businesses on site and planned for the future."
"Aeroponic systems are incredibly eco-friendly as they use very little water and produce very little waste, with only the water and nutrients the plants need used, and any excess collected and reused."
"It is a method proven to result in faster growth, healthier plants, and bigger yields — all while using fewer resources. In a world where restaurant owners are now very much aware of the need to use locally grown produce, this is a system that allows them to grow their own fresh, high-quality ingredients onsite, even if there isn't a great deal of space."
Expertise on hand as project progresses
Seedleaves has spent the past year perfecting this all-natural method of growing, and Mr. Benson intends to also provide educational tours and lessons with the aim of empowering the local community to start growing their own fresh produce within their businesses or at home.
"We've done a lot of work to get to this stage, and I have to say the support of CambridgeHOK and Alan could not have been better. Alan has been here so many times going through the plans and making tweaks to the designs to make sure we have everything right," added Mr Benson.
"We chose CambridgeHOK because they are the best in the market and they have proved to be so. I wanted to ensure I had the expertise I needed to know that my greenhouse would do exactly as I needed when built, and also have the reassurance that I'd have their growing expertise to call upon when needed."