P3 scientists partnering in urban agriculture scheme

Posted on August 4, 2017 in News, Carousel by . Share this article

Modern technology for growing leafy green food in our inner cities is going to be pioneered in Sheffield in an exciting first for UK food production.

Scientists from the Plant Production and Protection (P3) Centre at the University of Sheffield will work with technologists from US company Green Collar Foods to establish an indoor controlled environment ‘farm’ demonstrator at the old Tinsley Primary School site.

Green Collar Foods uses aeroponics technology and the latest in micro-green (young salad or vegetables) techniques to grow crops in urban areas, to benefit the local community. Aeroponics is a system of growing plants without soil or any other aggregate. Instead the plants are simply suspended in a growhouse and they receive the nutrients that they require via a mist.

Green Collar Foods is an award-winning company with successful franchises in American cities including Detroit, Michigan and Bridgeport, Connecticut. It has pioneered a way of working that enables a growhouse unit to be established anywhere. The facility combines common sense technology, public sector engagement, reusable equipment and materials, and data monitoring systems. Users then work with groups such as P3 to gain the necessary plant science and disease management expertise to help run the growing facilities. The facilities are indoor allotments of sorts, but without the need for wellies.

Having set up a large-scale demonstrator growhouse in Detroit, Green Collar Foods are keen to replicate and showcase the same kind of growing facilities in the UK, leveraging the world-class capabilities within the P3 Centre, whose knowledge and expertise will be used to optimise commercial growing methods.

Ron Reynolds, Chairman and Co-Founder of Green Collar Foods (GCF) explained, “Our initial plans to set up a GCF growhouse in Sheffield will enable us to demonstrate our innovative and low-cost approach to creating sustainable inner-city agriculture.  

“Our approach involves establishing a small scale indoor ‘farm’ environment then monitoring the crop production through sensor-based data collection using open source coding. We will be providing opportunities through the growhouse to develop an inner-city Internet of Things apprenticeship program that will be linked to this initiative and will offer training in these exciting and important new ways to use cloud computing in relation to food production.”

Dr Megan Lewis, Business Development Manager at the P3 Centre said, “We at P3 are really excited about this project as it fits with our aims to develop new, more sustainable forms of crop production. In addition to reducing the distance of the food supply chain, this project could also lead to new job opportunities in Sheffield and other cities; where manufacturing jobs have disappeared, inner city growing could replace them.”

The Sheffield project is currently backed by funding from the University of Sheffield and Green Collar Foods. However, to maximise the success of the project, Ron Reynolds explains that external investment will be needed. He said, “Working with the P3 Centre we can provide the components of the growhouse along with the expertise to set it up. In order to secure the long-term future of the training and production programmes, we are inviting investors who share our vision and ambition to revitalise low-income cities, to come and help us offer indoor, urban solutions to food production issues in a sustainable way as the global population increases.”   

For further information about the growhouse project, please contact Dr Megan Lewis via megan.lewis@sheffield.ac.uk.

To find out more about the research of the P3 Centre and how to work with its scientists, please visit p3.sheffield.ac.uk.

The collaboration is pleased to be supported by Anthony Murphy, Founder and Managing Director of Prime Advocates, a not-for-profit law firm and social finance consultancy providing legal, strategy and financial advisory support to a range of clients including impact investors, social enterprises and responsible businesses.