Microgreens launched by vertical farmer April Sun

Just in time for this year’s winter season, vertical farmer April Sun launched its range of sustainably grown microgreens from its new commercial-sized micro-farming facility in Melbourne.

With a philosophy of true sustainability and paired with cutting-edge technology, the local farm wants to provide the community with a range of nutrient-packed microgreens available year-round to their nearby community.

Co-founder Darren Nichol, April Sun visionary of Australia’s cleanest and highest nutritional food supply who has a wealth of knowledge due to his agricultural background, says, “This is a particular focus of the Darebin Council. They have an actual goal to increase food production within its municipality.”

These super foods are grown without pesticides and utilise 95 per cent less water than traditional farming methods due to a hydroponic based (closed loop) watering system. Co-founder Ty Dickson, April Sun technologist and facility designer, said this system guarantees the plants do not receive too little or too much water.

“The watering targets each individual plant or root system and is drained back to the holding tanks,” he said. “Traditional farming methods would see water being lost to the ground and you would use more water to achieve the same level of fertigation without the ability to recapture the excess.”

With custom-spectrum lights developed in-house, the microgreens are grown in their ideal conditions, allowing for year-round production and minimal waste.

“We use a combination of specific wavelengths of blue, red, far red and full spectrum light to stimulate the chlorophyll A and B of the plants, while giving the right signals to ensure proper colour, increased nutrients through stress and, above all, a very healthy plant,” Dickson said.

“We are a non-single use plastics company; we opt for PLA compostable packaging. Our facility uses the highest efficiency components and equipment available. We do run on electricity, although we are engaging in using 100% renewables, and are in preliminary talks with the Darebin Council to implement 100kW of solar panels on our warehouse roof.” said Dickson.

In traditional farming, external factors such as drought, pollution, soil erosion and more can impact crop success. However, the world of vertical farming is “most often done indoors in a controlled environment”, he adds. “Vertical farming when done sustainably has less impact on the environment, there are significant reductions in water usage, land usage, gas usage and many other resources. This is all achieved whilst controlling the indoor growing environment with minimal impact to it outside.”

“By controlling every factor in the plant’s environment, you end up with a high-quality product on a number of levels,” said Nichol.

“We can grow to a timeline and the removal of variables such as the weather allows us to more accurately forecast and grow to our customers’ demands. This can reduce the amount of waste and also increase consistency of supply to customers. This is a huge problem for traditional farming and is the cause for the large price jumps and shortages of produce on the market.”

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Easing food supply concerns

Sprout Stack is an Australian, agricultural technology start up that brings farming within the city limits. It’s Australia’s only commercial-scale vertical farm and represents the future of farming.

Said to be able to grow produce faster than traditional farming methods and get this to people quickly, 365 days a year, the innovative startup is one of the best answers we have to the question of how we’re going to solve the pressures facing food production and supply chain.

Comprised of recycled shipping containers housed inside a converted urban warehouse, Sprout Stack grows mixed salads and leafy greens in a controlled environment, using a hydroponic system to deliver water and nutrients and LEDs that act as the sun.

According to Chief Executive Officer Hugh McGilligan, not only does their technology yield tastier produce, it also is helping solve a major issue facing the fresh produce industry – waste.

“Traditional farming and food delivery networks are massively resource intensive and wasteful. A lot of the food that is grown never even makes it to the table. According to the UN, 40 per cent of harvested food is wasted and that goes up to 70 per cent for leafy vegetables,” said McGilligan.

McGilligan says Sprout Stack’s produce is fresher and therefore more nutritious than produce from traditional farms because it is able to largely eliminate food miles.

“From the moment of harvest, the nutritional quality of fresh produce declines rapidly. Now more than ever, people are looking for ways to boost health and immunity and fresh produce is absolutely a way to help do this. Sprout Stack averages 16 hours from harvest to store, so produce tastes better and is nutritionally superior,” he said.

Vertical farming is both highly efficient and sustainable. The whole process uses far less land, water and fertiliser and absolutely no pesticides, herbicides or other nasty agrichemicals.

The controlled environment within each container mimics a perfect summer’s day, taking variable weather conditions that affect traditional outdoor farms, out of the equation. As a result, plants are ready to harvest 40 per cent faster than traditional growing speeds.

Each container equates to approximately one hectare of farmland but uses only five per cent of the water and 20 per cent of the fertiliser.

Demand for fresh produce is higher than ever, and Sprout Stack’s hyper-local approach means it is in a position to grow more and get on the shelves faster.

The startup is currently delivering around a quarter of a tonne of mixed salad every week to supermarkets and is on track to expand. At the end of 2019 it moved into a new warehouse to accommodate a larger, more automated and efficient production process. It is also working with the Future Food Systems CRC and University of NSW to help design their new operations and assist expansion.

“Vertical farms didn’t even exist only ten years ago, but interest and investment in the category has exploded,” said McGilligan. “The future of farming needs to be enormously more sustainable. By bringing farming closer to the people who need it, vertical farming provides a necessary solution and one of the best answers to how we’re going to feed our growing population.”