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We Went to Nottingham's First Commercial Indoor Farm to Talk Mushrooms and Microgreens

8 February 22 interview: Adam Pickering
photos: Curtis Powell

Set up in August 2020 in a burst of furlough-fuelled “why not?” entrepreneurialism, Nottingham Vertical Farm, based in Carlton, is the city’s first commercial indoor farm. We talk to Will Glass, one half of the duo behind the business, to ask about their journey so far and how their approach can benefit both the environment and food security…

So where did Nottingham Vertical Farm begin?
I was on furlough at the time and my now business partner Nik (Nikul Patel) knows the guy that’s renting out this warehouse space. He said, “I’ve got an opportunity to start a vertical farm.” He'd done some research on it and was really keen, and he knows that I'm big into growing my own food anyway - I've got an allotment and I've been doing that for years, I love it. Nik originally wanted to start growing microgreens, and I said that I'd get involved provided we grow mushrooms as well. 

Before this I was working for a distribution company managing 3D printing for them, which was great and really interesting, but I got tired of the corporate life and in a way it wasn't satisfying me. As soon as we started this we realised how much fun it is and how much more satisfying it is. So I decided to quit my job to focus on this full time. 

Did you find much interest in the sort of produce you’re able to grow?
Well, we just had this space that we're in now to begin with. We had the grow tanks set up in here, originally for the first six months. But then we quickly realised that we needed more space. So at that point we took on the whole floor, and then it just grew from there - no pun intended... It's not paying the way for either of us yet, but it's getting there. We’ve covered all the big investments we’ve put in, so it's now just about ramping up business and attracting more customers. 

Mushrooms, in particular, there's massive demand for - I can't grow the mushrooms quick enough a lot of the time. At the end of last year we went around Nottingham and handed out a lot of samples to restaurants and we got a lot of good feedback from that, and quite a few more regular customers. That made us realise we really had to ramp up production, because the room is capable of producing about 400 kilos of mushrooms a month, but the labour to do that is massive.

Is it sustainable in terms of the environmental impact?
There is an amount of energy consumption involved in running this place. At the moment we're running on about £70 a month of electricity, so it's not astronomical. All of the lights that we're using are extremely low wattage, everything's on timers or on sensors to reduce the time that these pieces of equipment are on. Ultimately, we’d like to have a bigger premises with solar panels on the roof so we can actually generate our own electricity, but I’d say what we're doing here is considerably more green than if you were to go and buy a punnet of, say, Oyster mushrooms from Tesco - because they've come from the Netherlands, or their King Oysters come from South Korea. So you can look at these products and say they're really good for you, which they are, but they've come a long way to here - and that means quite a big carbon footprint from travelling. 

I'm always looking at ways that we can make it a bit more sustainable and reduce as much plastic use, for example, as we can. We were originally using the PLA containers, basically a plant based plastic, but I think it's a bit of a greenwash really because it can't be recycled in the vast majority of places. It's only biodegradable in an industrial process, which is not really that green. So we use PET containers because they recycle easily, but we also say to people that if you want to give them back to us, we'll clean them out and we'll use them again. So we're trying things like that. 

Do you reckon vertical urban farms like this have a role to play in addressing food security in the future?
I think so. We've seen even this past year the supply issues with stuff being imported into this country. So to have your food grown as locally as possible, it can only be beneficial. I think it plays a part of the bigger picture in future - it isn't the solution, but it's going to be a part of it. If you have hubs in every city that can produce food, at a low energy cost, or net zero if they've got their own solar panels, it can only do good. There are no setbacks that I can see.

In my opinion, agricultural use of land at the moment is just shocking. The farming industry, in terms of cattle and so on, it’s so unnatural in my mind, and that really needs to change. Even the way that we grow crops, blasting them with pesticides and herbicides, the soil is pretty much dead because what goes on your vegetable is going into that soil. So if you can produce food in a more controlled environment where you don't have to use pesticides or herbicides, then it's better for the planet, and better for your health, and it frees up space for nature. How amazing would that be, if we rewilded half of the UK which is farmland? It’d be fantastic.

How can people get hold of your stuff?
People either message us on Instagram or they can email. A lot of it’s still through word of mouth, but we’ll hopefully be hitting a few of the local street markets in February like Sneinton, Sherwood, and The Park, which we’ll be posting about on our Instagram. Then we'll take it from there.

You can order from Nottingham Vertical Farm by emailing [email protected] or visiting their Instagram page

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