Imagine the hanging gardens of Babylon brought into this century.
The simple principle of passing water down from one level to the next to irrigate plants was incorporated into a readily-available system of pockets a few years ago by my friend Bernard Sanders, the originator of the ‘Mini-Grip’ bag closure which spawned ‘Zip-Loc’. His system is the basis of our product, Babilon.
The very essence of an inventor is to create something that works better than everything that came before it. Bernard saw hydroponic growing as exactly that, as it is a logical improvement over existing growing methods. Plants only drink around 6% of the water poured onto them when planted in the soil – the rest drains or evaporates away. Great if you have just the right amount of regular rainfall. Not so good if you have the unreliable kind of rain. Or no rain at all.
Having plants in pots or bags with just the right amount of nutrition delivered to them like horticultural room service means crops can be grown where water resources are limited or costly, and anywhere from arid plains to city rooftops.
Babilon takes this a step further by enabling plants to be grown one above the other, 18 in the same area of one planted in the ground. This saves a huge amount of floor space, and space is an increasingly valuable resource.
Bernard’s friends Graeme van de Velde and Nick Barry grew strawberries vertically for him in polytunnels on farms in South Africa and the UK. Both farmers were hugely impressed with the amount and quality of the fruit they grew and the reduced acreage they had needed to do it. Nick even won the top prize in his area’s agricultural show with his first crop.
I started FarmUpwards in 2013 because I could see that Babilon would be a huge advantage to growers of all scales in many countries and it should spread further. My two colleagues bring their experience of getting FatFace clothing up and running and we have a great balance in the team; I have the vision and they know what they are doing. While keeping our day jobs bubbling away we sourced a manufacturer who could cope with the demand for a new worldwide product and, while machinery was being modified to produce something they had never even seen the likes of before, we set up all the many systems to manage the orders. Now, we have stock, we have the capability and, what’s more, we have a purpose.
Since Bernard patented his idea the world has evolved into needing just such a product. This brilliant man’s thinking was literally ahead of its time (did I mention I was a friend of his?). Populations are growing. Farmland is threatened as new houses are built moving freshly-grown food further from city centres. Gardens are the size of bath towels or non-existent as developers cram houses onto tiny plots or build apartment blocks. Imagine what it will be like in twenty years’ time.
I want people without gardens to be able to have flowers or grow fresh food just like anyone else, on balconies or in sunny windows. Babilon helps people who do have gardens to utilise their fences and walls or take full advantage of their greenhouses. Growing vertically enables existing farmers to produce more in the space they have, addressing the issue of food shortfall. Hadlow College in the south of England are conducting an experiment to assess this theory using Babilon and so far the figures are looking phenomenal. I will keep you posted.
I want, so much, to encourage and cajole more urban farms to be set up as this is the future of food production.
Growing food commercially within urban areas for local restaurants or shops reduces food miles and ensures fewer nutrients are lost, meaning food that’s actually worth eating. They can be set up in warehouses, business units, shops, rooftops are popular, barges on rivers was a favourite of Bernard’s, and even underground. Almost any space will do and growing food vertically with Babilon will vastly increase the yield of any area.
I am developing a schools programme as Babilon is a new and engaging way to bring the fun of growing to children. There will be a dedicated pack of information because vertical farming in one form or another will be an increasing part of the children’s future. Systems such as Babilon will help free up land as towns expand, and help produce food needed in their centres.
Because it is made out of (yes, yes) flexible plastic (but it is recyclable and only around the same amount as a DVD in its box), Babilon is the most affordable way to grow so many plants vertically. Everyone can appreciate its simple functionality but it has subtle complexities too which I have worked hard to incorporate during development: It is resistant to harmful ultraviolet light which promotes the growth of bacteria in root systems. The pockets are the perfect size for healthy root balls and have an in-built irrigation system. Babilon is strong enough to support the weight of 18 plants, their growing medium, the water they require and the fruit they produce, yet it weighs almost nothing itself so has minimum impact on the planet even when being delivered in large numbers.
Babilon is a growing opportunity.
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