Empty London industrial unit transformed into sophisticated indoor farm to produce fresh year-round herbs for city restaurants

An empty London industrial unit has been transformed into a sophisticated indoor farming space dedicated to growing fresh herbs which can be delivered to the city’s restaurants within hours of harvesting all year round.

The new Vertical Farm facility is being operated by Harvest London, a company dedicated to overcoming difficulties in sourcing herbs and vegetables 12 months a year by producing them in specially built controlled environments.

The project has come to fruition after a year in planning and development, led by specialists at CambridgeHOK. It has seen the industrial unit, in Leyton, converted into a 153 m2 (of grow area) facility where herbs can be grown in perfect conditions across four levels.

The ‘’grow room’ is controlled by sophisticated, automated climate and irrigation systems to aid production and maximise growth, using energy-saving LED lighting.

First produce off the racks will be basil, of which the farm can grow around seven tonnes a year, with the major benefits being guaranteed quality of product and locality to customers.

Matt Chlebek, Chief Agronomist at Harvest London, said: “This is a really exciting development for us and a huge step up from our initial facility, which we established on the back of our own research and development two years ago in Walthamstow.

“We started the business having spoken to local chefs about providing freshly grown herbs just a few miles from their kitchens, thereby reducing the distance and time from production to consumption. This was something they were excited about.

“We have worked with a number of restaurants in London over the past two years who have become excellent customers and as a result of that success we wanted to improve further and become more sophisticated in what we are doing. That is why we turned to CambridgeHOK, and we are delighted that we did.

Project taken from concept to completion within 12 months

The specialist service has greatly impressed not only Mr Chlebek and chief executive Chris Davies at Harvest London, but also investors who have backed the growing business to this stage in its growth.

“As soon as we met the CambridgeHOK team we were impressed and their specialist knowledge and their expertise was clear to see as soon as they sent us their first technical designs,” Mr Chlebek added.

“They have steered the project through every possible step and as a client it is reassuring to know you are working with a company which handles every aspect of planning, design and building a vertical farm.

“You simply wouldn’t get the same knowledge and understanding by using a number of different companies for each element of the project, as we had to do when establishing our first facility.

“The great advantage CambridgeHOK bring is that they are experienced growers. They have explained why the specific approach was being taken with regards to each element of creating the ideal environment.

“We can certainly look to increase the number of restaurants we supply now, and ask chefs what herbs they want us to grow, and when. The plan is to demonstrate the increasing demand at this facility and secure further investment to create more, larger Vertical Farms across London in the coming years.”

System will ensure continued learning to improve performance

The first full crop of basil is now almost ready to be harvested just four weeks after being planted, with the sophisticated system enabling the Harvest London team to control climate remotely via their mobile phones, and analyse sophisticated data on yield and growing capacity.

Jason Tether, project manager at CambridgeHOK, said: “It has been a very rewarding to work with a grower dedicated to ensuring food is grown much closer to customers and the point of consumption, helping uphold the quality of product and reducing food wastage.

“Our team provided a full turnkey service from design and build to handing over a fully-functioning grow room and associated control systems. It was pleasing to complete on time, and under budget.

“On each and every vertical farm project we face different challenges with regards to the property being used and the product being grown, but this helps us develop new ideas and concepts which can benefit future clients.

“It was fantastic to work with a collaborative client like Harvest London.”

As well as the grow room, CambridgeHOK constructed a harvesting room and production management area, where crops will be processed and made ready for collection and delivery. The facility also includes separate office, kitchens, and restroom spaces.

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