There are certain questions that we are asked on a regular basis, which is great because we love to talk about what we do and why we do it. However, we thought it might make sense to gather the answers to the most commonly asked ones and put them all in one place. The FAQ below should give you a bit of an insight into what we are all about and why we think our way of farming is important for the future of the planet.
What can you grow?
Theoretically, anything. Even root vegetables such as carrots and the like could be grown without using any soil whatsoever. That being said, it is perhaps not the best use of time and energy as it would ultimately be a very expensive carrot.
Within the CEA industry the current primary focus is on microgreens, leafy greens, herbs and even some fruits. These products have a fast growth rate enabling us to grow and sell them at competitive prices to match glasshouse and traditional growers. As the technology improves so will the practical capabilities of growing more adventurous products. We have seen how far the industry has come over the last ten years and we are excited to see what the future holds.
How is your approach to growing going to save the planet?
Our farm uses up to 70% less water and a fraction of the space compared to conventional farming. Owing to our proprietary data, every m2 of a ZCF farm is significantly more productive than 1m2 of traditional farm land. This means we can grow more in less space and operate within dense urban areas which brings down our food miles and in turn reduces our carbon footprint. Reducing our carbon footprint to zero is an absolute priority for us.
This year, we officially became certified as Carbon Neutral +. Our certification is provided by Carbon Footprint Ltd in accordance with ISO 14064-1:2018 guidelines and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s corporate standards. To meet this standard we have accounted for all our GHG emissions in the past year and have offset these + 10% more to become net carbon negative. Moreover we’ve even offset our historic emissions going back to when our first farm came online in 2016.
While we are not claiming that our way of farming can save the planet, we certainly think that it is a step in the right direction. Growing in a completely controlled environment using less space and water and without any harmful pesticides or herbicides is certainly ‘better’ for the planet than alternative practices.
Isn’t the sun more sustainable than LED lighting?
The sun is the most sustainable source of energy we have, but it’s not something we can rely on seeing much of, especially here in the UK! Meanwhile, extreme weather events are on the rise globally and greatly impacting traditional farming.
We realise that growing via artificial lighting solutions requires more electricity than plants grown outdoors. However, the LEDs that we use to grow on our Clapham farm are extremely efficient, requiring very little energy to make our plants grow.
More importantly, to tackle the carbon emissions from our energy usage, ZCF has committed to only using 100% renewable energy sources across our current and future sites. This is a major cornerstone of our wider sustainability strategy.
Nutrition and flavour versus conventionally grown produce
We regularly test the nutritional profile of our crops. Our crops consistently outperform fully grown produce, with just a 100g of most ZCF crops having higher vitamin and mineral contents than 100g of their fully grown counterparts.
In addition, time spent in the supply chain plays a huge part in crop composition – as soon as the product is harvested, the nutritional profiles start to degrade; products that spend many days in the supply chain (i.e. being trucked into the UK from the EU as 90% of our lettuces are during the winter months) versus those products that only spend a day in the supply chain (like ours) will inevitably be less nutritionally dense by the time they reach supermarket shelves.
In our R&D area, we are currently trialling new LEDs that allow for the customisation of the light’s spectral composition. These spectrum variations, combined with our proprietary data, enable us to maximise the yield and enhance the quality and the nutritional content of our crops.
How can you call yourselves sustainable when you use plastic packaging?
Our current packaging is 100% home recyclable. Moreover, it meets the highest standards in terms of food safety regulations, waste reduction and practicality in use. Indeed, the punnets we use are made up of 70% recycled material content (rPET), and 30% virgin material. Even though we would like it to be 100% rPET, the EU food regulation doesn’t currently allow it due to food safety concerns.
In late 2019, we decided to try and start making the change towards compostable and renewable material packaging (PLA), but after extensive research into different packaging material lifecycles by our sustainability team, we found that they might not be the best packaging option for us. While the chosen material in PLA is sustainably sourced, the way such packaging is processed has an equally important role in determining its environmental impact. So while PLA packaging is made from renewable material (such as corn), and is biodegradable, we need to know that it can be disposed of correctly. Currently, most councils in the UK don’t accept compostable packaging in food or garden waste collections as most of the UK lacks the infrastructure to dispose of these responsibly. And so, as things stand, rPET punnet is currently the best packaging choice for our business.
Why are your products so much more expensive than other salads?
It is difficult to compare our produce to salad – we are more than just the average lettuce! We like to joke that not all salad is made equally, but you’d be hard pressed to find microgreens that are grown in Zone 2 by growers that are Carbon Neutral +, Red Tractor, BRC and B Corp certified. And you can even pick our greens up for £1 in M&S!
We sincerely hope that you found this useful. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org.