North East Connected

Newcastle’s first hydroponic farm to produce low carbon food

A CHEMIST and an engineer have teamed up to launch a business producing low-carbon food.

Fyto is Newcastle’s first hydroponic vertical farming company, producing fresh vegetables and herbs. Hydroponic farming is a method of growing food ultra-locally, using nutrient-rich water solutions instead of soil.

Chemist Aidan Brierley and electronic engineer Greg Short met while working at a Northumberland-based engineering company.

“We talked for months about sustainable food production and the potential of vertical farming, which led to some initial experiments in the garage – building lighting and growing systems,” explained Greg.

The pair have now launched Fyto (Greek for plant) from premises in Hoults Yard, Byker, where they are creating their first growing space and fabrication shop. Fyto has received significant support through the North East LEP and Innovate UK’s Young Innovator Award.

“The business will produce fresh, local, and low-carbon food, but we’re also manufacturing growing systems for others to use. Our first crops of vegetables and herbs will be ready in July, but we’re already starting to sell the growing systems and units to restaurants who are as passionate as we are about sustainability,” Aidan said.

“Through supplying growing systems to restaurants and cafes we’re providing them with a sustainable way to grow their own produce and creating a better and fairer food system, with the added benefit of incredibly fresh and tasty produce,” Greg added.

Herbs Fyto will produce include basil, chervil, coriander, oregano and parsley while vegetables will include chard, kale, lettuce, rocket and spinach, with many more to come.

“This type of production means we can work with chefs to supply produce that isn’t readily available. As one example, we are growing several varieties of basil like cinnamon basil or red basil which aren’t grown at scale and is hard for chefs to source,” said Aidan.

“We’re also exploring the concept of food production for specific medical reasons. Patients with renal issues for instance can benefit from eating vegetables with adjusted potassium levels, meaning we can grow food for medically-tailored diets,” he added.

Aidan, who graduated from Oxford University with a Masters degree in chemistry, is from Cramlington, and Greg, who graduated from Northumbria University with an honours degree in electrical and electronic engineering, is from Heaton, Newcastle.

The pair were looking for premises with a bit of character and central to Tyneside and moved into their new 1,000sq ft space last month.

“It’s the perfect size for us and easily accessible to the whole of Tyneside. It’s important to us to keep things local in order to reduce our carbon footprint. We’re working with local communities where restaurants are currently getting food and ingredients from all over the world and across the UK – which isn’t great in sustainability terms. Food shouldn’t travel any further than it has to,” said Aidan.

“We can compete directly in terms of quality and price of fresh produce, and because of the controlled hydroponic conditions we can produce what we want when we want – locally grown coriander in December for instance,” he added.

“Right now, food is produced and transported around the world in an ecologically damaging way – what we’re about is producing the best quality produce for local markets in a way that is not harming the earth. The green element to our business is what drives us, it’s our top priority and we want to work with restaurants and businesses who share that view,” said Greg.

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