BY NICK MACMAHON | 25 MAY 2019
MiniCrops is a ‘vertical farm’, in Deptford, South London, that grows over 80 types of microgreens in a controlled environment using LED lights and a hydroponic growing system. Microgreens are edible plants that are harvested at an early stage of growth. Plants are considered microgreens once they have grown at least two sets of true leaves and are about 2 inches high. Each type of plant grows differently, but generally, they are grown for about 2 weeks before they are ready to be harvested.
You probably have come across microgreens before, in fine dining restaurants, delicately placed on top of a dish, functioning for mostly aesthetic purposes. But, as Marie, who runs MiniCrops with her husband Jamie, tells me, these little leaves are as flavourful as their mature counterparts and also packed full of nutritional benefit. Their aim is for microgreens to be valued for more than just their visual appeal. MiniCrops is one arm of Vertical Future, Jamie and Marie’s start-up that is focussed on developing technology to create more sustainable food systems in urban environments. They have a vision for the future where we can produce more food locally and not rely so heavily on traditional farming practices, cutting down on growing costs, transport costs and the environmental costs of intensive farming. And produce can be grown all year round. With climate change and depleting soil health causing strife for the British farming industry, this could be a potential way to offset the food production burden while we try to combat our agricultural and environmental woes.
The ‘vertical farm’ in Deptford consists of a couple of rooms with big shelves of plants at different stages of growth, all bathed in an intense purple light from LED lights. The plants are not grown in a traditional soil medium but are instead grown using a hydroponic system. Your first thoughts at the idea of ‘hydroponics’ may draw scepticism, the term can often conjure ideas of dodgy marijuana growing operations. But the reality is far less shady and much more wholesome. When plants are grown in soil, they grow in part by absorbing nutrients from the soil through their roots, usually, these nutrients come from decaying organic matter in the soil (like compost) or from the addition of nutrients through fertilisers. The soil is just a medium that holds the nutrients and the plants in place. Plants can be grown in many different mediums. As long as they can receive adequate nutrients and light, they will happily grow. With hydroponic growing systems, the roots of the plant sit in a bath of flowing water and nutrients are added to the water when required. This system means the growing process is much easier to control, resulting in more efficient growing, healthier plants and a higher yield from harvest.
Currently, MiniCrops are able to produce microgreens for over 100 food businesses all over London, from cafes to high-end restaurants, as well as selling to the public from their stall in Borough Market.
They have a long list of microgreens for sale, including standard herbs like coriander, basil, parsley, etc, as well as edible flowers and lesser-known leaves from plants like mustard, radish and broccoli. Jamie and Marie, are continually trialling new and different microgreens, some are successful and some, not so successful.
If you're interested in trying some microgreens you can purchase from their website. They offer a sampling selection of their range if you want to try the different microgreens on offer.