Sprouting good sense: hyperlocal food
Experts claim that by 2050, there will be more than 10 billion people in the world to feed. Here in Australia, our rapidly growing and increasingly urban population is already putting mounting pressure on farmers and the resources they rely upon. It’s clear that we need to think about new, smarter and more efficient ways to produce nutritious food.
One Australian agtech start-up has been doing just that, producing “hyperlocal”, clean and green mixed salads and micro-herbs out of Australia’s first and only commercial-scale vertical farm – basically farming which grows crops in vertically stacked layers.
Sprout Stack, based in Brookvale on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, grows its produce year-round in recycled shipping containers. Each container is fitted with hydroponics, LED lights and a super-smart computer control system, and a single container equates to a whole hectare of traditional farmland. The business currently produces 300kg of fresh produce per week – this equates to 2.5 hectares of traditional farming land (a touch bigger than the Sydney Cricket Ground) – all from a humble 1200sqm warehouse.
The controlled environment within each shipping container mimics a perfect summer’s day and as a result, plants are ready to harvest 40% faster than traditional growing speeds. Vertical farming also uses only a fraction of the water (about 2 to 5%) that traditional farming does, and because the leafy greens grow in a controlled environment, there’s no need for any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
As well as saving water and reducing the use of chemicals, the aim of vertical farming is to make farming in urban environments possible, and to grow food in close proximity to the market that eats it: it’s food for locals, by locals. Sprout Stack’s produce averages just 16 hours from harvest to store, whereas it takes about a week for traditionally farmed produce to make it to our supermarkets. And because the food is so local, it’s more nutritious.
In case you thought Sprout Stack couldn’t get any more saintly, the business also upcycles its waste products – coconut husk, which is used to grow the plants in – either to grow mushrooms or to provide feed for local chicken farmers. All water used is also captured, sterilised and reused. By combining the latest technology and environmental smarts with agriculture, Sprout Stack has found an ingenious way to help provide us with a more secure, sustainable and less wasteful food supply.
Sprout Stack salads are sold at Harris Farms Sydney-wide and local independent grocers.