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Imagine urban communities that are able to watch and contribute to the growing of the fresh produce that appears on their plates every day. Then imagine the benefits such communities would have on our collective health – both physical and mental – and the environment.
That’s how Square Mile Farms envisions the world – comprised of healthy, sustainable cities with vertical urban farming at their hearts, that nourish the people living within them, and the natural environment they rely on.
We sat down with one of three co-founders, Johnathan Ransom, to find out how the business first started, and why it will define the future of healthy spaces.
Why are you personally passionate about the company’s vision?
I’m a property professional by training, but I come from a family of farmers and much of my experience lies in the built environment. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of growing fresh produce close to where we live and work. This concept has become increasingly viable, and today, we hardly have any excuse not to do it.
Our food system is the single largest contributor to CO2 emissions, and has a devastating effect on natural habitats – and our demand for food is increasing dramatically. We need to find a solution to intensify food production without destroying our global natural environment. Bringing food production into the human environment will help reduce strain on natural ecosystems. Vertical, urban farming can play a huge part in this.
However, change must be consumer-led. Our choices drive the behaviours of big business. Growing fresh produce in front of the consumer helps to re-engage them with the food they eat, the impact it has on their health and its lasting impacts on the environment.
How did the company first start?
We started in Patrick’s (one of my co-founders) back garden. We designed and built a ‘flat-pack-farm’, the components of which we had to carry through his house. We had to hack away at a few door frames to get the metal panels through, and then do the same to get it out again! But it worked fantastically well – I spent the first three months of the company’s life experimenting and growing all types of fresh produce using this prototype.
In parallel, my other co-founder Doug, started a business called Yeeld. He built a vertical farm in a small industrial unit all on his own, where he was getting up at 4am every day to deliver local businesses with micro-greens.
These early days were well spent researching the market, gathering customer feedback and working on our green thumbs. It also helped develop a sense of purpose – the more we looked into the food system, and how responsible it is for health problems and environmental damage, the more we became absolutely committed to playing a part in changing it.
What changes have you seen since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis and how have you tackled them?
Covid-19 has made employers think even more about how they create healthy, inviting and engaging placing to work. For companies that do rely on in-person, collaborative workplaces, there needs to be a reason for employees to be in the office, now more than ever. This trend toward workplace wellbeing was a priority for big employers operating knowledge-based businesses before Covid-19, but now it is top of the agenda. Our product is perfectly placed to benefit from this trend towards greener, healthier, more sustainable offices.
What different products are clients able to choose from and what further products/developments do you have in the pipeline?
Clients can choose from a number of options, including free-standing, hydroponic towers to a wall of fresh, edible plants. We also offer workshops, seminars and other events that engage employees and help create an office farming community.
What are some recent growth stats or accolades you can speak to?
Last year we were invited by British Land to build our first working farm on the roof of Microsoft’s UK HQ in Paddington Central. BL are a FTSE 100 business and one of the UK’s largest property owners, so being asked to take our services to their tenants was a big deal for us. That opened the door to our first engagement with Vodafone, and now with Visa.
More recently we’ve started serious conversations with one of Europe’s largest investors and operators in private rented residential accommodation about bringing vertical farming to their residential campuses, starting in London, which is equally exciting. Being featured on the BBC in January, in an Inside Out London documentary title ‘Office Farming’ was also a huge achievement for us.
What will be the primary uses of proceeds from this round?
We’ve got an exciting pipeline of opportunities and we’re going to use the proceeds to deliver on this pipeline, carry out new hires, raise our profile and invest in areas of our technology that can further our USP.
We’re excited to give our community the opportunity to benefit from our future success. We’ve found the crowdfunding exercise to be a great way of meeting people from all walks of life, some of whom have skills, experience and contacts that will help us take the next step.
What is your favourite kind of plant to have in your home/workplace?
I installed a vertical, hydroponic system in my home when we set up the business. It looks really cool lit up against the wall. I grow lettuce, basil, kale and chard in it. It saves a trip to the grocery store and is much more rewarding than ornamental plants!
What’s one thing you love doing outside of work?
Lockdown has been a great opportunity to experiment with growing fresh produce in my garden. I found an old BBQ that’s made a great planter!
What’s one thing you’re currently learning?
Polishing up my Spanish! I was supposed to marry my Spanish fiancé this year but had to postpone the wedding due to Covid-19. I promised I’d do my speech in Spanish – I should be thankful that I have more time to practice.
To find out more about the investment opportunity, visit Square Mile Farms’ pitch.