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Beckton warehouse hosting a farming revolution

PUBLISHED: 10:30 15 March 2016 | UPDATED: 10:30 15 March 2016

Farm assistant Luke Gray inspects the salad

Farm assistant Luke Gray inspects the salad

Archant

Ask any child where fish or lettuce comes from and chances are they won’t say a warehouse on a Beckton industrial park.

Farm manager Oscar Davidson cleans out the fish tanksFarm manager Oscar Davidson cleans out the fish tanks

But GrowUp Urban Farms is aiming to change that by revolutionising farming from within just 600 square metres.

The business is the brainchild of Kate Hofman and Tom Webster, who set it up three years ago.

Kate said: “Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, or fish farming, and hydroponics, which is growing without soil.

“We’ve got 12 fish tanks, 10 of which are currently in use, and use the nutrients produced to help grow salads and herbs.”

Farm assistant Jabaar Euba with some of the cropsFarm assistant Jabaar Euba with some of the crops

The warehouse is divided into three areas, one for fish, one for salads and one for storage.

The fish tanks are used to grow tilapia, a type of fish often used in curries.

“It takes about four to five months [to grow them] and we’re about to harvest our first tanks,” said Kate.

“We can have up to 400 fish in a tank, and they can grow up to 800g each.”

A variety of herbs are grown in BecktonA variety of herbs are grown in Beckton

Once harvested, the fish will be packed up and sent whole to restaurants, shops and traders.

“We’ve got a delivery driver, we don’t let people come here – we’re not exactly on most people’s way home,” said Kate.

The farm already delivers salads and herbs, many of which are commonly used in south Asian cuisine.

It has built up a strong customer base within the first six months of trading as an alternative to importing ingredients from the other side of the world.

Farm assistant Jabaar Euba carries some of the salad which is ready for distributionFarm assistant Jabaar Euba carries some of the salad which is ready for distribution

The crops are grown on eight 5.5metre high towers, each with 10 benches on.

Each bench can be individually controlled to enable the best conditions for each type of crop.

“With an apple farm, if something goes wrong, that’s your whole season ruined,” said Kate.

“If something goes wrong here, it’s only three weeks until another crop is grown again.”

Things can be grown to orderThings can be grown to order

The farm operates with just 11 members of staff and although a fledgling enterprise, Kate is keen to expand.

“We were looking for somewhere in Newham or Tower Hamlets, and we chose here,” said Kate.

“The next one we open, we’re hoping to make it 10 times the size and use that as a benchmark for future farms.

“The thing about warehouses is that they’re everywhere.”

It’s not just warehouses either, with a smaller scale aquaponics farm set up in the GrowUp box on Roof East.

A shipping container with a greenhouse on top, it functions with just a handful of crops and one tank of fish.

What it does do, however, is provide a chance to see aquaponics in action and gain an understanding of just how revolutionary GrowUp’s role in the farming industry is.


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