Updated: Feb 10, 2021
In our Getting to Know... series, we interview key members of Liberty’s team with expertise in different aspects of vertical farming.
Today, Joshua Allen, Liberty’s Growing and Relationship manager, tells us a bit about his background in horticulture, the importance of interdisciplinary skill sets for vertical farming, and what he likes growing at home.
What’s your academic & career background?
I went down numerous career paths and experienced various career transformations, from a carpenter in London to a recruitment consultant in Amsterdam. My most recent role before Liberty was a VIP bet broker between London, Hong Kong and Macau.
In 2013, after taking some time out to think about my next steps, I returned to the childhood fascination I had with the natural world and the way it works. Horticulture had always been there, bubbling away in the background, and it was time to bring it to the forefront so I could practice my passion daily.
I found my way to higher education, where I studied for my BSc Hons degree in Horticulture at Writtle University College. This degree opened many different doors in my mind and offered me the opportunity to delve down various rabbit holes that strengthened my knowledge in the specific areas I wanted to pursue.
When did you first get into Vertical Farming?
As a horticulturist, the development of the vertical farming industry has always been on my radar. However, I had my first immersion into it when I joined Liberty to assist with the development of the LED technology for high value crops. Working closely with the team has really brought to my attention the massive benefits that vertical farming can offer us. I don’t think it's a silver bullet to solve all problems, however, it is an essential component of modern, sustainable food systems and, I believe, has a significant role to play in putting humanity onto a more positive future trajectory.
Why did you choose Liberty?
I chose Liberty first due to the company's innovative nature but mainly because of our shared values of sustainability and working towards a better future.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on developing new relationships in the sector with like-minded partners and organisations that are trying to improve the food system through innovative technologies and sustainable practices.
There’s also a lot to focus on lighting at the moment; we’re testing various new products in the CEA (Controlled Environment Agriculture) space and delivering data and research on optimising light recipes according to crop need for increased energy efficiency. As LEDs become increasingly efficient, we continue to push the boundaries at the intersection of crop and technology development towards greater sustainability.
At Liberty, we are always focused on how to sustainably upscale CEA in the UK -- this is a key area of focus for me as I work with partners on a range of feasibility studies on how best to support the necessary growth of the sector. With Brexit on the horizon, food security in Britain should be at the forefront of our thinking.
What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
There are lots of different parts! My role is quite unique and I’m really lucky that I get to be part of technology development and growing trials with different plants. I’m also able to connect with new like minded people, allowing new relationships to blossom.
Could you walk us through a typical working day?
Knowledge is key in my role, so I tend to spend a lot of time carrying out market research and looking at industry news. This gives me the opportunity to check out new startups and research collaborations that are taking place in order to keep up with the ever-changing vertical farming landscape.
It’s important to make regular check-ins with existing and prospective clients as well as connect with my own teammates since my work cuts across crop research, product development and customer management.
Are the backgrounds at Liberty all scientific?
No, not all backgrounds are in the hard sciences. One of the main reasons our company has the potential to be so effective in this space is that we have a range of different skill sets across teams. The other reason is that all members of the group have the same goal, which is to make a difference. This sense of purpose and the belief in the value of collaborative interdisciplinary work for effective product development, customer engagement and the growth of the industry to meet our collective sustainability goals is a big part of what makes Liberty an interesting and fun place to work.
What advice would you have for researchers/growers/newbies who are just starting out in the industry or interested in joining it?
Well, the obvious one is to keep up-to-date with what's going on in the industry as tech and ideas can evolve quickly! It's even more important to think outside the box and always look at the bigger picture. Personally, I believe that it is important to ensure that your goals and values are aligned when you’re looking for a company to work or partner with as this is not a well-travelled road and you will face challenges. At Liberty, our collective sense of purpose enables us to face those challenges with commitment, professionalism and good humour.
And, finally, what do you enjoy growing at home?
I enjoy growing a variety of kitchen herbs; one of my favourites is a ginger rosemary variety that I found at Hampton Court flower show a couple of years ago. I also enjoy growing potatoes in sacks on the patio, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
I like to grow Salvias, both the culinary varieties as well as the ornamental varieties that flower plentifully throughout the growing season.