FARM:shop Initiative Brings Farming To A New Level

By: Allana Mortell

Considering the diverse amount of radical products sold in retail stores all over the world, I suppose it shouldn't be too alarming to know that the world's first urban farming hub is taking place in a local shop near London's East End. FARM:shop is more than a farm - it is a workspace, events venue, cafe and grocery store. While customers can nosh on sourdough sandwiches in the cafe, employees are simultaneously growing mushrooms in the basement, chicken coops on the roof and watching over fish tanks filled with tilapia. Though specific "exhibitions" change with season, the three tenants of FARM:shop remain sound :

  1. To excite and inspire city dwellers to grow their own food, fabric and medicine and to make an income doing this
  2. To create direct links between farms in the countryside with communities in the cities
  3. To grow food commercially via a network of FARM's across cities and retail this food at FARM's shop.

The shop didn't open its doors until March of 2011 but the idea behind FARM:shop has been brewing for over two years. Engineer and co-founder Paul Smyth says, "I think places like FARM:shop can reconnect people with their food ... we've had this separation of countryside and city living, so the connection has been severe between what you eat and how its grown."

In a radical new manner, FARM:shop is doing just what Smyth has envisioned in terms of approaching ecological and sustainable agriculture. "If you're growing food directly where its eaten, there's less refrigeration, less energy use through transport and distribution. FARM:shop could be scaled up and replicated in cities around the world to help reduce the enormous carbon emissions linked to food production."

With the fruit blooming in a polytunnel greenhouse and herbs and lettuce leaves growing from hydroponic troughs inside the shelving units of the store, the method behind such farming is certainly deep-seeded in a need for economical and agricultural change. "We've experienced a great amount of goodwill and enthusiasm about the project. People just want to come off the street, learn how to raise a fish; look after a chicken; grow some food - that means, you get a more people-powered agriculture," Smyth adds.

The hands-on mentality of this new venture is certainly working towards the owners of FARM:shop's advantage, considering a small profit has been made between employees and customers. Though the inside of FARM:shop looks like a laboratory, it can't be too surprising considering what's going on behind the closed doors. One of the biggest issues FARM:shop is hoping to tackle is in regards to the amount of toxic carbon emission in the air. Based on a 2008 Greenspace report, the food industry is responsible for creating 30% of the world's total annual carbon emissions.For the UK alone, food travels 30 billion kilometers a year, which adds 19 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Florence Egal, the chairman of the Food for Cities network urges the importance of FARM:shop in a similar recognition that it won't and can't solve everything right away, "No-one is saying you're going to feed nine billion people like this, but agriculture reform is an incremental process requiring many solutions. Growing perishable, fresh produce near to where it is consumed seems like one very sensible step."

Though the idea may be new in fashion, the results are a success thus far. No agriculture issue can be solved overnight, but in order for things to move forward sometimes it's those radical ideas, like FARM:shop that can make all the difference.

Click here to find out more information and to get directions to where the shop is located.

Photo: Tim Crook

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