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Blog: Grow It York: Believing in healthy food

In a previous blog post, Katherine Denby, from the University of York, introduced the vertical farm project which she is leading as part of the FixOurFood programme. In this blog post, we explore the partnerships which are behind Grow It York.

For those who haven’t heard of Grow It York, it is a vertical community farm at the heart of a vibrant container park in Piccadilly, York. On the door of the container farm it says ‘We believe in healthy food’ and inside there are salad crops growing such as pea shoots, watercress, microgreens and herbs. But the ‘healthy food’ goes further than nutritional value. It is also about a healthy planet which supports biodiversity and vigorous ecosystems and enriches the communities where it is grown and eaten, helping local economies to thrive.

Grow It York, which is an integral part of the FixOurFood programme, was built to investigate how vertical farming can play a role in creating positive changes within our food systems, while also benefiting our health, environment and economy. To achieve the bold ambition which the University of York has for this project, it has teamed up with two key partners LettUs Grow and Spark: York. LettUs Grow are experts in indoor farming using aeroponics – an eco-friendly method of growing crops indoors without soil, using less water and without the need for pesticides. Spark: York, the location of the farm, is a community interest company using shipping containers to provide spaces for local restaurants, retailers and entrepreneurs. Placing the vertical farm in the heart of the city allows Grow It York to supply hyper-local produce to the surrounding businesses and locals.

As well as setting up the farm, the University of York is researching how hybrid businesses that prioritise social and environmental benefit (not just profit) can be encouraged in the food system. It will explore how these innovative businesses can help tackle the health, environment and economic challenges of how we produce, supply and eat food. This joint university-business community farm is the first of its kind, but there are plans to expand to other locations if the project is a success.

In the shorter term there are plans to offer community slots for growing in the farm and for events in collaboration with school eco and food groups. The farm is also holding events as part of the York Food Festival. Those who are curious can take a peek through the glass door of the container at the growing crops. The site is open 12 -11pm Tuesday to Saturday. Those who want to taste the vertically farmed produce, can pick up a free salad bag from Spark York’s General Store at Unit 3 on Thursday mornings from 9.30 – 11 am and Saturdays from 8.30 – 10 am (or until the stock has gone).