Member Story – Square Mile Farms: Our Journey So Far
Square Mile Farms: Our Journey So Far
As we embark on a new chapter, we reflect on our objectives and our journey.
So… here we are, finally about to launch our crowdfunding campaign. If you’re interested in learning more you can do so here, but remember that investments of this nature carry risks to your capital, so please invest aware. We couldn’t be more excited about the months ahead. It is undeniable that the world has changed dramatically since we first started out, but we still see fantastic opportunities for our business.
We have been struck by how much companies and our community have embraced our vision and we continue to see demand for our farm installations. Some of our most advanced conversations remain extremely promising and we hope to share more exciting news very soon!
As we look to the future, today is also a great opportunity to reflect on our journey up to now. And what a ride it’s been! It’s fair to say that our business concept has evolved a lot since we first dreamt it up in a pub in Farringdon (and a warehouse in Putney) but our core mission has remained. Now, more than ever, we are committed to making a positive impact on the wellbeing of city dwellers and reducing the environmental impact of our food system.
The more we learnt about the negative environmental impacts of conventional farming and the related food system, the more we felt compelled to do something about it and urban farming has a huge potential to transform the way we produce our food and our relationship with it.
Not only is it hugely empowering to bring food production closer to the consumer and challenge the (wasteful, and environmentally damaging) global food system, it is also tremendously exciting to be working at the convergence of lighting, sensor and IoT technologies to grow super sustainable, super healthy food.
How did we arrive at our Office Farming Model?
We started by building a ‘flat pack’ farm in one of our gardens. Since then, we’ve experimented with various growing methods and over 40 plant varieties, including microgreens, herbs and leafy greens.
Next on our agenda was to engage with restaurants, wholesalers and food brands to explore the possibility of selling produce directly to them. Based on our research though we came to recognise that the economics of selling directly to businesses are challenging.
The grower prices for fresh produce are extremely competitive and difficult to reconcile with the upfront costs of controlled environment agriculture. This led us to start thinking about ways of offering a product directly to the consumer, while de-risking the conventional urban farming model of selling produce.
As we set up in Bermondsey and started to test our design and our ability to grow plants, we started talking to landlords and were invited by British Land to install a farm on the rooftop of an office building in Paddington Central, a major working campus in central London. Our vertical, hydroponic farm in Paddington now acts as our display farm and operational base. Check out the time lapse of the build here.
As we became part of the Paddington Central community, we did lots of engagement surveys and focus groups in this period to find out what office workers wanted. We found lots of people asking questions like: ‘could we have one of these farms in our office?’ and slowly our business concept began to take shape.
We also found that corporate occupiers were focused on providing green, healthy, engaging office spaces. This is reflective of new priorities for large employers, which include commitments to sustainability and improving employee wellbeing. This led us to develop our Office Farming model, which is centred around the installation of farm walls into the workplace. Our model seems to resonate really well with employers and at the end of 2019 we secured our first two customers with Vodafone and Grosvenor Estates.
How does Office Farming work?
Our Office Farming model creates green, inviting workspaces for engagement, collaboration and education, giving employees a reason to be in the office. We install live walls with a difference, they’re edible!
Alongside our installations we offer a suite of activities, aimed at supporting employee health and wellbeing and driving employee engagement. These include workshops on growing at home, nutritional consultations and seminars aimed at helping employees to live healthier, low-impact lives.
By reengaging us with our food system urban farming can also play a huge part in giving us the skills and knowledge to live healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.
How has the lockdown affected Square Mile Farms?
The lockdown has further emphasised to us the importance of our workplace environments. We think offices will remain important in the future and we’re not the only ones who think so. Key industry players such as JLL and British Land have suggested that demand for London offices will endure.
Now is the time to transform them into engaging places that foster creativity and collaboration and that people want to go to. We have an opportunity to refocus our relationship with the workplace and redesign and modify offices to better support employee health and wellbeing.
The food shortages associated with the lockdown also highlighted issues relating to our ‘just in time’ food system. We believe that bringing food production closer to the consumer can help to create more resilient supply chains.
So what’s next?
We’ve got lots of exciting prospects and we hope to start our first major farm installation soon. We’ve also got a feature with the FT coming later in the summer, so stay tuned! And – as if we haven’t said it enough! – we’ll be launching our crowdfunding campaign very soon! Keep an eye out on LinkedIn and Instagram, or sign up to our newsletter for updates.
Square Mile Farms bring urban farming to the workplace to the benefit of employee engagement and wellbeing. We install vertical farm walls and other productive green spaces in offices, and curate workshops, events and seminars to help create a culture of healthy, sustainable living. Find out more about our corporate offering and get in touch here with any queries. Sign up to our weekly newsletter for tips and advice on a healthy lifestyle and a round-up of relevant news. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date with our journey, find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.