Spinach can lose over half of its vitamin C by the time it reaches the supermarket. For city dwellers, even local food may have travelled many miles to your plate. Unfortunately along the way it loses freshness and flavour.
The hyperlocal food movement hopes to change that. By growing food in cities, you could eat food almost immediately after harvest. Read on to find out how.
What Is Hyperlocal Food?
Hyperlocal food is food that is grown very close to where it is eaten. This means with metres, rather than miles, between farm and fork. Restaurants and shops might grow food on their own premises or buy from nearby urban farms.
Hyperlocal food has been named as a top food trend in the US by the National Restaurant Association. We took a look at some hyperlocal food projects in the UK.
There Could Be On-Site Gardens and Rooftop Farms All Around You
Many restaurants and cafes now have their own herb gardens. Some even have miniature rooftop farms to grow fresh vegetables and garnishes. The Resident, a luxury lifestyle magazine, lists a few London restaurants that grow some of their own food.
Bee London and Sky Farmers run rooftop gardens in Holborn, London. They produce herbs and vegetables for restaurants such as The Rosewood Hotel and Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. The gardens are maintained by volunteers who live and work in the buildings below. This gives chefs the chance to be connected to and learn more about the ingredients they are using.
Further north, Farm Urban has set up several food production sites around Liverpool. One of their projects includes a rooftop garden at the Liverpool Guild of Students.
Urban gardening is not just for fruit and vegetables. Fortnum & Mason sells honey from beehives on their roof. And Brew Wild Manchester and Hiver Beer make beer flavoured with honey from beehives throughout the city. You can find honey producers local to you by using the Urban Honey Collective honey map.
There are few downsides to rooftop farms, but one is that they can be heavy. Some roofs need to be reinforced to take the weight of the soil and water. Also, they may not produce much in the winter months and it may be difficult to find enough sunny, flat roof space with suitable access.
Indoor Farming – More Than Just Kitchen Herb Pots
A more high-tech approach is to grow food indoors without soil. Hydroponic systems trickle nutrient-rich water past the roots of plants. Energy-efficient artificial lighting can be tailored to provide only the colours of light that the plants use. This means herbs and vegetables can be grown all year round.
Growing Underground uses this approach to grow fresh leaves. Their fresh produce is grown in disused London Underground tunnels. You can buy their salads at London’s Borough Market and at some Whole Foods branches. Growing Underground also sells to local restaurants such as Michelin-starred Le Gavroche.
Unit 84, run in a warehouse in London by GrowUp Urban Farms, is a “vertical farm” with a circular ecosystem. Fish are raised in tanks. The fertilised water from the fish tanks then feeds salads and herbs. Since the plants don’t rely on sunlight, they can grow on shelves stacked several layers high.
Unit 84 makes 20 tonnes of leaves and four tonnes of fish every year. This is all produced on less than one-seventh of an acre – and they don’t use any pesticides. An outdoor farm might produce only a couple of tonnes of lettuce on the same area.
One thing that isn’t clear is how much electricity and fish food are used by the system. The farm isn’t open to the public, but you can see a similar system in action at the GrowUp Box.
At FARM:shop in Hackney, you can sample food grown in the cafe itself. FARM has big plans, having raised funding to build a 3000 square metre rooftop farm. Here they plan to grow fish, vegetables and mushrooms.
Mushroom Farming Goes Urban
FARM: are also trying to expand into mushroom farming on a nearby London housing estate. Another business doing urban mushroom farming is GroCycle in Exeter.
They grow mushrooms on waste coffee grounds in a disused office building in the city centre. These mushrooms are then sold to restaurants in South-West England.
Is Hyperlocal Farming Worth It?
It’s worth remembering that local food isn’t always more sustainable. This is because the energy used to heat greenhouses can outweigh the lower carbon emissions from transport. It isn’t clear whether this is also true for hydroponic and “vertical” farms.
Hyperlocal food is great for freshness and for supporting your local community. But it may be some time before it’s widely available outside of expensive restaurants and small educational projects. In the meantime, growing your own vegetables might be the best option for that just-picked flavour.