At the end of 2019, we took some time to reflect on what was definitely a 'light(n)ing’ year for Liberty (pun very much intended). We pride ourselves on being a company that can celebrate our achievements and also continue to grow from what we’ve learned.
2020 has been a bit, ahem, different. Despite all the challenges which we’ve had to adapt to along with the rest of the world, our fundamental goal as a company remains the same: to drive innovations that will enable the UK and the world to meet our crop requirements over the next century, without harming the planet.
If anything, the pandemic has brought the urgency of this mission into sharp focus. Indeed, this year has presented opportunities for us to deeply reflect on our mission and values to actively develop goals directing us to a democratic food-secure future.
Beyond including some of our proudest company highlights from 2020, we wanted to focus on the global events which have helped us learn and grow as a company.
Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic
Even before the start of the pandemic, we had been razor-focused on impending food security crises in the UK and beyond; producing enough food for a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 would require an increase of 70% in agricultural productivity. COVID-19 has further emphasised the fragility of our food production systems and made it clear that current methods of agriculture need to change in order to meet growing demand in a sustainable way.
We believe that information, education and the sharing of knowledge is key to changing the way we produce and distribute food. As a company in the AgTech sector, this means leading the charge in changing the way we think about our food and understanding the wider implications of the pandemic in terms of environmental sustainability and food security. Beyond our development of leading-edge technologies and collaborations with researchers and growers, we aim to encourage people to reexamine their own personal habits and to press for greater change on a global level. We believe this starts with increasing public awareness of the issues facing our global food production system.
Growing at Home
As part of our response to the pandemic, we've been building accessible content for the general public on the Future Farming Hub (FFH) blog. The goal of the blog is to engage our community on tech developments and share knowledge on how food is produced.
Following the Coronavirus outbreak and the shortages of various foodstuffs in shops and supermarkets, there was no better time to evaluate our food production system and to start growing some of our own food. Growing at home doesn’t have to be expensive, take too much time or require a large amount of space.
We started exploring our own growing at home habits to mark Earth Week on Instagram and Twitter. In response to the positive feedback, we ran a blog series with tips on how to grow at home over on Medium. We started with easy-to-grow herbs suitable for indoor spaces, then moved onto vegetables and tips for growing outdoors.
We’re also posting this series on our new YouTube Channel every week until the end of January!
Future Proofing Food
With the pandemic bringing sustainability to the forefront of public discourse, reflecting on the impacts of COVID-19 has taught us a lot about finding solutions to food security through a dynamic approach to the way we produce and consume food.
In response to this challenging year, we launched our new blog series: Future Proofing Food. In it, we focus on a broad range of issues across agriculture and our current food systems and interesting potential solutions presented by experts in their respective fields.
Growing in the FFH
Liberty continues to believe that dynamic solutions for food production will be found by working collaboratively towards a more sustainable and food-secure future. This summer, we ran some very exciting experiments in partnership with The James Hutton Institute on TCEA (Totally Controlled Environment Agriculture) blueberries in the Future Farming Hub (FFH).
Due to the controlled and fully enclosed nature of the FFH, Emma Campbell and Kaisa Kantola were able to continue the experiments on the Snowchaser blueberry during the pandemic lockdown. Initial data indicated that germination times can be brought down from 8-12 weeks in a glasshouse to 21 days within the FFH.
This initial collaboration with The Hutton’s Blueberry Researcher Dr Susan McCallum has important implications for speed breeding programmes. Speed breeding is a food system which promises to develop new crop varieties faster, offering further hope for biodiversity and food security. Check out Dr McCallum’s blog post on speed breeding for our Future Proofing Food series as well as our collaborative video, ‘Sowing the seeds for speed breeding in Vertical Farms’.
Kaisa Kantola, our Science Officer and vertical farming expert, has also been working on some fascinating ice lettuce and chive experiments alongside the blueberry work. Our chives have been growing speedily indoors on different types of media at the FFH and reaching the magic (20cm) number! We found they work best with GrowFelt Wool, a heavier mat providing higher water holding made from wool rich fibres. The ice lettuce is also particularly interesting as it is a high value crop that has, in recent years, become a favourite amongst chefs.
Bubbling collaboration with the Hutton
We cemented our productive relationship with the James Hutton Institute in October when our Commercial Director, Alexander Giles, and Professor Lesley Torrance, Executive Director of Science of The James Hutton Institute, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
The signing of the MoU led to an ambitious joint project to develop a unique, cutting-edge 'hydrobubble' technology. This technology will push the boundaries of the vertical farming sector as there is evidence that hydrobubbles have the potential to hugely impact plant growth and yield in indoor farming and hydroponic systems. This AgriTech collaboration, funded by a grant from Innovate UK, will further propel our goal to transform modern agriculture through research.
Reflecting on diversity and inclusion
2020 also highlighted the systemic racism, discrimination and equality embedded in our society. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement which gained momentum in the summer was important for our own learning processes and reflecting on how we may have been unconsciously biased.
We strongly believe that inclusion, diversity and egalitarianism strengthen our social fabric and are fundamental to scientific, technological and environmental transformation. Diversity and inclusion are also integral to our overarching goal of achieving sustainable agriculture and meeting our global crop requirements without harming the planet.
Liberty Produce stands against racism, all forms of discrimination and inequality and is dedicated to promoting inclusion, diversity and egalitarianism for all people and specifically in the AgTech sector. 2020 has helped us understand ways to improve ourselves as a company as we’ve continued our own journey of learning and educating ourselves on systemic exclusion.
Getting to know the team
This year has been a real growth period for Liberty and it’s wonderful how much our team has expanded! In honour of this, we launched our ‘Getting to know…’ series, where we interview key members of Liberty’s team with different areas of expertise. All types of skills are pertinent to the growth of the company and the AgTech industry.
Although many of us have been working from home, our London office still houses some members of the team, including the new baby shrimp and fish additions to the Liberty family.
Launching virtual events
In August, we attended The Hutton’s Fruit for the Future 2020 where our Knowledge Director Dylan Banks hosted a webinar on 'Vertically farmed berries: The Future of Germination & Beyond'.
In October, we took part in UKUAT’s webinar series. Our Knowledge Director Dylan Banks and Susan McCallum from The Hutton presented on ‘The Future of TCEA: Far Beyond Microgreens’, discussing radical visions for the future of controlled environment agriculture including soft fruit and vertical farming.
In November, our Commercial Director Alexander Giles presented on ‘The role of CEA in the sustainability of the Agriculture sector’ for Barclays Eagle Labs.
We’re also excited to announce our new three-part webinar series with Writtle University College which will invite industry experts to discuss ‘Filling the skills gap in UK food production’. You can register for the first webinar here. We’ll be posting more information in our newsletter — subscribe for updates!