Square Mile Farms: notes from our intern, Anna
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
I luckily stumbled upon Square Mile Farms while on a site visit earlier this Summer and was immediately interested by this unique set-up and innovative idea - feeding people locally, with fresh produce and clean technology. So I asked if I could get involved later in Summer before returning to university to finish my final year.
Stepping onto the farm on the first day at Square Mile Farms, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Having studied and researched vertical farming, hydroponics and food security at university, I came with some academic understanding of how the farm conceptually functioned. But I had little knowledge as to how it was run on a day to day basis and how it was made to be productive and profitable. Over the two weeks, I split my time between farm-work and concept-research.
By working directly on the farm, I learnt a lot about how an urban vertical farm works practically. I gained experience on the techniques to correctly grow microgreens, carry out seeding, transplanting and harvesting in a hydroponic farm. I realised the exact science of hydroponic farms, constantly controlling and monitoring temperature, pH and conductivity, only ever using deionised water and the importance of constantly cleaning and sterilising equipment. In only two weeks, I have seen seeds that I have planted grow into produce that local consumers have enjoyed. This has been very rewarding and makes me want to spend more time growing and less time buying. It made me feel reconnected to the food I am eating and I would recommend anyone to come up and plant some of your own.
Also, while farming, I was surprised with how much produced was harvested every day for consumers. One day I must have harvested almost 1kg of Red-vein Chard, and I’d say there was still 60% up on the hydroponic towers! And there’s more - parsley, chives, bok choi, coriander, basil, kale, lemon grass, sorrel to name but a few. Delicious, fresh and nutritious.
In addition to working on the farm itself, I have also spent time with the rest of the Square Mile Farms team, researching the importance of urban farming both globally and in London and looking into the steady growth of green business. I found out that: by 2050 arable land per person will be ⅓ rd compared to 1970. So the global population either needs to find more land or farm more efficiently. Through further research I found that vertical farming uses much less space, water and time to produce the same amount of produce as a traditional farm and has a capacity to produce more from the same seed (see graphic below).
Another brilliant aspect of the urban farm model is that the food is right on your doorstep. This means the food is FRESH and still contains its full nutritional value. Also, it carries NO FOOD MILES, the produce is given to people at work or to local restaurants and therefore no carbon has been released into the atmosphere to transport food from farm to fork. Now 83% of the UK population live in urban environments, it just makes sense for urban agriculture to grow too. Therefore, vertical farming is evidently a key means to sustainable feed the UK’s growing urban population, without losing out on nutritional value, without increasing food miles and without clearing natural land for arable land.
It is evident that people are starting to realise this opportunity. Square Mile Farms isn’t the only urban vertical farm which has popped up in London in recent years. ‘Infarm’ has started providing M&S Clapham with hydroponic kits so consumers can purchase greens grown in-store and ‘Underground Farms’ is vertically farming greens and micro-herbs 33-meters below Clapham. It has been great to be a (very) small part of this growing industry while I have been at Square Mile Farms.
I feel lucky to have seen Square Mile Farms operate first hand and have been inspired by their morals. They endeavor to provide the people of Paddington Central a local alternative to their Sainsbury’s Spinach from Spain while also promoting nutrition and grow-your-own methods of farming. Going forward I will definitely put more thought into what I’m eating, its impact on my health, my wellbeing and the environment.
About the blogger: Anna Biggs
I am going into my final year of university, reading Geography at the University of Bristol. Next year, I will be completing my dissertation on the impact of climate change on food and water security. After university, I hope to work in sustainability, climate change mitigation or environmental charities.