FYTO are saving the world from the Ouseburn Valley – here’s how their vertical farming systems are cutting down carbon and finding new flavours…
Newcastle's first-ever vertical micro-farm is here to deliver the freshest, most flavoursome produce with the least environmental impact – and to get us growing, too.
Say the word ‘farming’ and most of us instantly conjure up mental images of big yellow tractors, rolling fields of wheat and a few dairy cows thrown in for good measure.
But what if we told you that we’ve discovered the first vertical micro-farm in Newcastle – and they’re supplying bars, restaurants and wholesalers across the North East (and beyond) from an urban warehouse in the Ouseburn Valley.
FYTO’s farming technology
See, FYTO (Greek for ‘plant’, fyi) have harnessed cutting-edge hydroponic farming technology – a horticultural method which involves growing plants without soil, using water-based mineral nutrient solutions instead – together with a snazzy, upright and scalable structure to create a system for maximum growth using minimum space.
Oh, all built by scratch, we might add.
Simple, affordable and effective, FYTO’s growing systems use optimised, low-energy LEDs and built-in water aeration to grow food in the most efficient, convenient and flavoursome way possible, (we’ll come back to the absolute taste explosions these bad boys are responsible for later). It’s easy to see why local lads Greg Short and Aidan Brierley – founders, directors and the collective genius behind FYTO – won Innovate UK’s Young Innovators Award for 2020/2021.
It’s also pretty easy to see why their technology is quickly being snapped up by discerning, eco-conscious individuals and businesses across the North East (and beyond). So, where do we sign up…?
Not that this innovative method of farming is just a space saver. It’s also a viable way for us to shop fresh produce that’s grown locally – eliminating the need to make huge carbon footprints as our ingredients journey halfway across the world to make it to our plates.
Which is especially useful when you realise that FYTO’s innovative design eliminates the need for traditional ‘seasons’ to make food grow. What that means is that far-flung, exotic and warm season produce can be grown on our doorsteps just as easily as traditional British fare.
As well as supplying an ever-growing host of local businesses in Newcastle, FYTO grow food themselves, too. We often stop for a chat when we bump into them at any of Newcastle’s local markets, or in popular Ouseburn haunt Ernie, which stocks a different selection of FYTO’s produce every week. So, if you ever fancy sampling some ultra-fresh, super-tasty veg and microgreens, just drop them a line and find out where they’re at next.
A better way to grow food
When we popped our heads into FYTO’s Hoults Yard warehouse to check out their cutting-edge equipment and meet the legends behind the leaves, what struck us most was Aidan and Greg’s passion for the planet.
Greg, originally from Heaton and an electronic engineer by trade, first met Cramlington local and chemist Aidan when they both found themselves working for the same Northumberland-based engineering company. But it wasn’t until they discovered their shared dedication to the environment that they started putting their heads together in an effort to come up with some kind of viable, affordable and, ultimately, local solution to the global climate crisis we find ourselves in. And haven’t they just gone and smashed it?
Because it turns out, there is a better way to grow our food. And it is necessary.
As it stands, global food production and distribution are huge contributors to global warming. The global food supply chain currently accounts for around a third (more than 30%) of all greenhouse gas emissions, while global agriculture contributes to 70% of the world’s freshwater usage.
With concerns ranging from high transport emissions to soil health degradation and fertiliser run-off, excessive plastic packaging and inordinate food waste, the food industry is one currently plagued by eco-conscious criticism – and rightly so.
But in advocating hyper-local food production and distribution, what FYTO are proving is that hydroponics and artificial light can effectively replace traditional farming methods. Their way of growing reduces water consumption by 90% and completely removes the need for herbicides; less land is needed because their structures are vertical (but they provide four times their footprint in growing space); and their methods provide us all with the opportunity to grow our own produce locally, sustainably and in way that can foster local communities.
Dramatically reducing our carbon footprint and bringing people together? Go on, lads!
What they can grow
A significant benefit of hydroponic growing is that it’s unseasonal and geography-agnostic. In other words, any plant can be given the right conditions to thrive artificially, regardless of wherever in the world it’s actually ‘planted’.
Basil grown in the Ouseburn by FYTO thrives just as much as it does in Kenya, for example. Which, handily enough, removes the logic of shipping delicate salad crops globally.
Now, food can actually be grown where it’s eaten: at home, in a restaurant, or just down the road. It also means that chefs can easily get their hands on some of the more exotic veg, herbs and spices out there, at a fraction of the cost of importing them.
Who knew, for example, that there are actually several varieties of basil, each with its own unique flavour? Cinnamon basil or red basil are never usually grown at scale, wherever you are in the world, so are incredibly hard for chefs to source. But if they’re growing them from their own kitchen, they can have as much as they want, whenever they want.
Step aside, everyday dining – bold, exotic flavours are here to stay!
The herbs FYTO currently grow include five different varieties of basil, chard, chervil, coriander, lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram and mint. Among their micro-greens are mustard, sweetcorn shoots, thyme, beetroot, amaranth, pea shoots, fennel, pepperspark and raddish mix. And their vegetables include winter purslane, chard, kale, lettuce, rocket, sorrel spinach, as well as special salad mixes. And they’re always expanding their range…
Greg and Aidan are even working on producing foods specifically for certain medical conditions. Patients with renal issues, for example, can benefit from eating vegetables with adjusted potassium levels. So, watch this space – FYTO may be our first local provider of specialist, medically-tailored diets. Which is pretty darn cool.
Grow your own
Better yet, we don’t even need to go shopping for our food at all, (FYTO really are the gift that keeps on giving). Because Aidan and Greg’s vertical growing devices are available for us to buy and use ourselves: their scalable structures transforming our homes – be they urban, rural or suburban; big, small and anything in between – into our very own micro-farm and uber-fresh larder, rolled into one.
To find out more about FYTO, shop their range of ultra-fresh, super-tasty veg and microgreens, or to invest in your own hydroponic vertical farming equipment and get growing, visit their website
And follow Greg and Aidan‘s journey by following FYTO on Instagram