Cambridge HOK and Harvest London partner on automated LED-lit vertical farm

Oct. 5, 2020
Engineering and construction firm CambridgeHOK led the buildout of a Leyton, UK vertical farm that will yield fresh leafy greens to restaurants year round.

CambridgeHOK has announced the completion of a Leyton, UK vertical farm lit with solid-state lighting (SSL), retrofitting a building that was formerly an industrial unit. Harvest London will operate the vertical farm supplying London restaurants with a variety of herbs and leafy greens within hours of harvest.

The new Leyton facility utilizes four layers of grow racks that in total provide 153m2 of growing footprint. CambridgeHOK is an energy-conscious engineering and construction firm that specializes in the agriculture and horticulture area. The company has specialized in commercial greenhouses and more recently vertical farms. The new farm was designed around LED lighting and a fully automated environment for irrigation and climate control — a practice we increasingly refer to as AgTech.

Harvest London, meanwhile, was launched to supply top restaurants in London with pristine produce. The farming specialist has grown red basil, Peruvian black mint, red dragon mustard, Mexican tarragon, mitsuba, devil’s tongue lettuce, and magentaspreen. The grower launched its first vertical farm two years ago in Walthamstow using hydroponic technology. “We started the business having spoken to local chefs about providing freshly grown herbs just a few miles from their kitchens, thereby reducing the distance and time from production to consumption,“ said Matt Chlebek, chief agronomist at Harvest London. “This was something they were excited about.”

The new farm will have far more capacity, although it lacks the dense layers we have seen in other farms that target herbs and leafy greens. LED lights produce little heat and can be placed very close to the plant canopy, yielding more layers. Back in 2014, we covered a vertical farm for the first time, and Green Sense used ten or more layers of racks. More recently, some other vertical farms such as well-funded Plenty are using vertical columns in which the plants are grown, presumably further increasing capacity and yield.

Still, the CambridgeHOK announcement sets high expectations for production from the new farm. Harvest London said the first basil grow is nearing harvest four weeks after having been planted. CambridgeHOK said the farm will ultimately yield 7 tonnes of basil per year.

Harvest London will rely on a business model similar to the one that Green Sense espoused in a feature article we published on vertical farms several years ago. The company will grow specifically what chefs want and essentially have a customer in place and waiting for every plant they tend.

“We can certainly look to increase the number of restaurants we supply now, and ask chefs what herbs they want us to grow, and when,” said Chlebek. “The plan is to demonstrate the increasing demand at this facility and secure further investment to create more, larger vertical farms across London in the coming years.”

Meanwhile, the AgTech component of the new farm is impressive. CambridgeHOK said the automated systems allow Harvest London growers to monitor the systems and make changes to the environment via their mobile phone.

“Our team provided a full turnkey service from design and build to handing over a fully-functioning grow room and associated control systems,“ said Jason Tether, project manager at CambridgeHOK.“ It has been a very rewarding to work with a grower dedicated to ensuring food is grown much closer to customers and the point of consumption, helping uphold the quality of product and reducing food wastage.”

We expect to learn far more about AgTech during our virtual HortiCann Light + Tech Conference, scheduled for Oct. 20–21. We have an outstanding keynote speaker in Bruce Bugbee from Utah State University. And the Closing Plenary panel will be conducted by Erico Mattos, executive director of the GLASE (Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering) Consortium and will feature commercial growers sharing their experience.

For up-to-the-minute LED and SSL updates, why not follow us on Twitter? You’ll find curated content and commentary, as well as information on industry events, webcasts, and surveys on our LinkedIn Company Page and our Facebook page.