Farm work

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Patrick Dumas Co-Founder at Square Mile Farms on why he thinks every office should have a farm and how it could be a great way to pull people back into the workplace

Driven by a passion for creating healthier, more sustainable cities, I created Square Mile Farms in 2019 with my Co-Founder Johnno Ransom. We learnt of vertical farming and how it can enable the growing of food, in practically any urban environment and were immediately passionate about creating a network of farms that did just that.

The team is now made up of six people, united behind our mission to make urban farming a lifestyle. We want to empower consumers to make healthy, sustainable food choices through technology, knowledge and exceptional experiences.

We achieve this by installing innovative Farms in offices and providing the tools and knowledge for learning around growing at home, nutrition and wellbeing, by creating an office farming experience for the employees of the businesses we work with. We don’t intend to stop at offices. We’re already working with operators of co-living spaces to provide farms as an amenity for their residents.

HOW OFFICE FARMING WORKS IN PRACTICE

So what does an Office Farm look like in practice? For us, it’s two-fold. Firstly, we design and install a vertical farm. This could be a Farm Wall, a ‘plug-and-play’ hydroponic tower, or a bespoke design to fit a new office design.

We use vertical, hydroponic (growing without soil) systems to maximise the growing area, minimise water use and grow fresh food indoors all year round without harsh chemicals. We utilise our rooftop Farm in British Land’s Paddington Central campus to grow seedlings ready to be deployed into our network of Farms across London.

Our farms grow ultra-fresh produce for the communities they serve. We grow a variety of leafy greens, herbs and salad leaves: some of our customers’ favourites are Kale, Basil and Rainbow Chard.

The second part of our offering is all about engagement, with the aim of getting employees away from their desks, interacting with their colleagues in a different way and teaching them about how they can live a healthier, low impact lifestyle through their food choices.

We run guided harvest sessions, whereby employees come along and harvest their veg with our Farm Community Manager. So not only are they getting to take home fresh food, they’re also taking a break from the usual work day by tending plants and engaging with nature, which is great for our wellbeing!

Additionally, we offer a suite of seminars and interactive workshops on topics from growing at home, to nutrition and sustainability. In this way the Office Farm acts as a platform for catalysing conversations around food choices and how we can all play a role in building the sustainable future our planet needs.

FARM INSPIRATION

As we adjust to the new normal after COVID, employers are looking for ways to attract employees back to the office and support them when they are working remotely. There is a great value to remote and hybrid working, but we think office working will remain relevant (albeit in a different form).

Employees will want a good reason to come into the office and are unlikely to come in just to work at a desk every day (and don’t intend to: nine out of ten workers say they’d like to continue to work from home in some form).

The missing element from working remotely is engagement with our colleagues, which is so important for collaborative working, team building and our mental wellbeing.

That’s why workspaces should be inspirational places, supporting collaboration and providing opportunities to interact with our colleagues in new ways. Office Farming does exactly that by contributing significantly to placemaking and biophilic design. Interacting with plants in this way brings biophilia in the workplace to life in a new way.

Not only do the Farms look and smell great (as do conventional green walls) they also offer endless opportunities for engagement, helping to build the experiential workplace of the future. We want to take biophilic design to the next level by enabling employees to interact with it directly and reap the benefits associated with spending time in nature, looking after plants and growing your own food!

Office Farming has the ability to transform the physical workplace and simultaneously offers endless opportunities to support employees working remotely and help them to feel connected to their colleagues. We provide the tools, knowledge and support to enable people to grow at home. They can collect seedlings from the Office Farm to grow their own herbs and vegetables and they have access to our resident Plant Doctor to get advice on looking after their plants.

As the return to the office is slowly accelerating we’ve had lots of interesting conversations with businesses looking to take this opportunity to reinvigorate their working environments. Earlier in the year we installed an Office Farm at a FTSE 100 business in Paddington.

They sought to bring more greenery to their office as well as create an engaging, experiential and welcoming workplace for employees to return to post-COVID. We worked with their Workplace Strategist and Human Resources teams to design the farm and curate employee engagement as part of an office re-fit. They now have a Farm Wall as well as two hydroponic farm towers, growing in total 170 edible plants!

We also recently installed an office farm close to our second hub in Wandsworth at Mindful Chef’s new office, they’re a forward thinking business in the food and wellness industry. We worked with the interior designer to install this Farm as part of the fit-out. Their Farm Wall serves their employees growing fresh produce right where they’re working!

Another exciting project we’re working on is a community Farm at an Aberdeen Standard Investments co-living space, operated by JLL. This Farm will serve the residents with fresh herbs and veggies and we’ll be on call to act as their Plant Doctor for any home growing questions they’ve got. The possibilities are endless when it comes to Urban Farming and we’re excited about what the future holds for Square Mile Farms.

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