Traditional & vertical farm to partner on their road to Net Zero
G H Dean & Co Ltd, a family farm that’s been running for over a century, is welcoming Ro-Gro, a vertical farming start-up founded by Zimbabwean Post Harvest Technologist Jason Perrott, onto their mixed farm in Kent. Jason’s family has been farming fresh produce in Zimbabwe since 1910. Ro-Gro, named after Jason’s daughter Rosie, is a continuation of that tradition.
The collaborative project will allow a proportion of the horticultural produce to be grown vertically indoors, releasing land for rewilding, building biodiversity and carbon capture. One of these key projects includes rewetting land to return it to marshland, creating and improving wetland habitats for breeding wading birds.
The vertical container farms, provided by LettUs Grow, use aeroponic technology to increase the growth rate of plants, while significantly reducing the water and fertiliser usage. It will produce crops all year round and offer resilience against climatic changes.
This new addition to the farm is aimed at strengthening G H Dean & Co’s operations, not replacing them. Micheal Bax, Chair of G H Dean & Co Ltd, said: “What we all have to remember about farming is that it takes place in the natural world. It's absolutely vital that we find the right balance between food production and conservation in the environment. The emphasis is now on environmental protection and the sustainability of agriculture.”
The multiple systems (orchards, arable, livestock, stewardship, controlled environment, and renewable energy) on the farm will work together synergistically. G H Dean & Co’s planned rain water harvesting systems will provide the water for the container farms. Ro-Gro will compost growing media and waste plant material for incorporation into the arable fields. Both farms will be powered by renewable energy. There are already enough solar panels on site to supply 40% of Ro-Gro’s energy and plans are in place to increase this to 90%, with the addition of more solar panels and a battery system. The rest of the energy will come from a renewable energy tariff. The pair are currently working with a renewable energy company to further improve their green energy integration.
The produce grown and sold under the Ro-Gro brand will be distributed via electric vehicle into the local area. The locality of the produce is something that really matters to both Jason and his customers. Jason said: “ For a few years I have been looking at different indoor growing systems to grow a wide range of great tasting local herbs and salads you can offer all year round. I am now confident of doing that using the technology within a DROP & GROW container farm. You never need to import anything. Whether it’s going to retailers, restaurants or farmers markets; it’s always local. It’s always fresh.”
Aaron Telford, owner of Cafe Nucleus and a client of Ro-Gro, said: “Knowing where our food comes from is central to what we do. We set out with a clear vision, to bring fully traceable food and drink to Chatham, Rochester and now Rainham. We love to keep it local and know where every single ingredient comes from. It’s those details that really set us apart. This new vertical farming initiative from Ro-Gro and G H Dean is so exciting, it means we have fresh, great-tasting, locally sourced ingredients all year round.”
Both G H Dean and Ro-Gro will be the first to admit that the project isn’t perfect and they’re still at the beginning of the road to Net Zero. Michael said: “The future for G H Dean and Ro-Gro is very interesting. The two businesses are undoubtedly complementary.
“All farm businesses have got to achieve Net Zero within a relatively short space of time. The learning curve that we'll tackle with Jason and with Ro-Gro is going to play an important part. Between the big scale business and the vertical farm, that'll get us there.”
Charlie Guy, CEO and co-founder of LettUs Grow, said: “By combining renewable energy integration and circular principles, this is exactly the kind of project that we want to be supporting at LettUs Grow. We believe that for the future of farming to be sustainable, it must be collaborative and take a holistic approach. Working with Jason, Tim and the team has been fantastic, their ambition to do the right thing in all areas of their farm is inspiring and shows what can be done to make UK farming more sustainable.”
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