The Future of Farming: Interview with Peter Williams, Founder of FarmUpwards
FarmUpwards' product, Babilon, is a high-efficiency vertical farming system which allows crops such as salads, herbs, and strawberries to be grown in places with extremely limited space. We interviewed Peter Williams of FarmUpwards to learn more about their products.
How did FarmUpwards start?:
My friend Bernard Sanders held over 100 patents for his inventions. The two best-known were called Mini-Grip which is the basis of ‘Zip-Loc’ bags (NOTE: Bernard didn’t invent Zip-Loc bags. They added the sliding feature to his closure to make the operation easier and they own the patent on that), and another closure system which is the one used on ‘Press and Seal’ bags (NOTE: Bernard invented the closure but sold the patent and ‘Press’n’Seal was set up by someone else).
However, Bernard’s favourite inventions were for hydroponic farming and I produced the drawing to support his patent application for his vertical growing system.
Bernard took very few of his ideas to market as he would rather invent than sell. I decided this one could solve a growing World food problem and started FarmUpwards to make it available.
Is Babilon an exclusively indoor or outdoor product, what are some other features of the product?
Babilon was designed to help improve farming and indoor growing in greenhouses and poly tunnels by reducing the space necessary to grow certain crops such as salads, herbs and strawberries.
It can also be used outside on garden fences and balcony railings or inside with LED lighting in Grow Tents and even near well-lit windows in rooms.
Used to best effect, Babilon is draped over a support and planted on both sides, or cut with scissors and fastened to a wall.
Once the pockets are planted, water is fed in at the top and Babilon guides it to the lower pockets. Any excess is easily (collected) at the bottom and can be recommissioned.
What makes your product different than other similar products on the market, if there are similar products?
Vertical growing systems are the way forward and there are a number to choose from but we do claim several advantages over them. Babilon is such a simple concept that manufacturing it has a minimal effect on the planet. It weighs almost nothing so can be distributed in great numbers using very little fuel and is made of recyclable plastic.
At just £12 for the ability to grow 18 plants above the floorspace that one plant pot takes up, Babilon brings vertical growing to the budget of anyone interested in making better use of their growing space.
Adaptable to almost any location it can be operational in minutes and, used in larger numbers can help grow commercial-sized crops to supply shops and restaurants in urban areas.
What types of materials can be added as the "compost" component in Babilon?
Babilon was designed as a hydroponic system and functions best when the pockets are filled with materials such as coir, clay pebbles or rock wool amongst others. These allow water and nutrients to flow freely down the column to the lower plants.
We do grow with compost in the pockets, which offers the same efficient use of space, and irrigate each individual pocket.
One of our aims is to encourage growers who are familiar with soil to make the jump to hydroponic media as it is not difficult and has advantages too.We are developing a simple irrigation system for soil lovers.
What are some of your companies past accomplishments, and what are some of your future goals?
We are brand new so can’t claim anything wonderful as a company just yet but, on a small scale, Bernard used his system to grow the first strawberries in the Caribbean and in Egypt using grey water.
This forms the basis for one of our major ambitions, along with promoting the spread of urban farming, of growing food in arid countries suffering drought, and for enabling displaced populations in camps or earthquake zones to grow nutritious crops in small spaces with little available water.
We were thrilled that Hadlow College in Sussex, England carried out an experiment and grew nearly 800 strawberry plants in 10 square metres. More details on that project here.
What is your next mission / goal? How can our readers help you achieve this mission or goal?
Vertical farming will be the way food is grown for increasing populations in the future as cities spread onto farmland. Custom-designed buildings to house the farms with computer-controlled environments are one answer but they cost millions of pounds and years to implement.
Smaller-scale alternative systems are available, from vertically-rotating racking to re-purposed drainpipes and will suit some locations and some budgets. Babilon is affordable to anyone and everyone wanting to take advantage of the way growing will be done in the future.
As well as offering anyone the ability to grow more of their own, we want to encourage a more entrepreneurial approach too and start the spread of urban farms to bring fresh food to local areas.
This decreases the loss of nutrients in food between field and table and will save millions of food miles.Babilon is available on the homepage of our website www.farmupwards.com.
We also have a growing list on our ‘Stockists’ page who have websites of their own too if they are not near you.We aim to sell to customers in countries around the world who see vertical farming as a solution to a very real problem.Babilon will be shipped by reliable carriers within 48 hours (less as we get better at it), prices come down for larger orders (see the site for details).