Today, Minicrops is a vertical, urban farming initiative that grow micro-greens & micro-veggies: shoots of vegetables such as rocket, radish, broccoli — and soon root vegetables — picked just after the first leaves have developed.
It’s the first initiative of Vertical Future, the parent company, which also builds devices that tackle air-pollution. Their crazy work hours are stemmed by a passion to build smarter technologies for healthier cities.
Jamie: “I work 80–90 hours a week on Minicrops, it’s insane. But it’s what is needed to succeed”.
Entering their warehouse in Deptford, it feels a little like stepping into high-tech laboratory, aside from the really loud techno music playing in the background. Turning the music down as he sees me enter, Jamie explains,
“I used to do a bit of DJ’ing on the side”. He stills dabbles in production from time to time.
I’m asked to put on plastic covers on my shoes as I’m showed around. They take hygiene seriously! Fluorescent LED lights, multi-level crop trays, screens monitoring crop growth and what looks like a pretty sophisticated irrigation system — this is what the future of food looks like.
Marie-Alexandrine: “We were really sick of being crammed into the tube everyday, it’s just not good for your health. We wanted more control over our life”
Successfully juggling family life with work, our couple seems to have it all — flexible hours, space for creativity, no commute, a good mix between physical, relationship and conceptual work, as well as pursuing a common passion.
The interest in urbanisation first arose when they had kids: “We started reading a interest ourselves with issues of living in cities — things like air pollution, food deserts, growing inequalities. Combined with the fact that people increasingly wanted nutritious, organic, local and sustainable foods we thought there was an untapped opportunity at tackling these both head on”.
Inspired by Square Roots (an urban farming initiative in the US, run by Elon Musk’s brother) Jamie and Marie-Alexandrine started looking for a space where they could set up their futuristic farm.
We talk about ‘post-organic’ farming.
“Organic is no longer enough,” they tell me, “the process can be quite wasteful of resources”. Post-organic goes a step further: entirely pesticide free, zero waste, farmed all year round with no negative impact on land, super low carbon footprint and reducing food miles by being hyper-local. It really does sound too good to be true.
“Population growth in cities is astounding and we need simply need better solutions,”
Jamie explains, “this is a win-win for the environment and consumers. Who wouldn’t want fresher, tastier and more nutritious food produced closer to home?” And they aren’t alone. London counts a handful of other urban farms, all with their quirks. Investors are also starting to take notice: US-based urban farm Inside Plenty recently raised $100m dollars from Softbank Fund, Alphabet and Amazon —effectively the largest AgTech investment in history.
While Marie-Alexandrine and Jamie are not quite there yet, their operation is steadily gaining traction. In the early days, they delivered everything themselves. They now have a driver and a small team to help with logistics servicing over 50 restaurants and a growing customer base.
Jamie: “I learnt a lot in the military but I just don’t like structure that much.”
Incredibly, Jamie just finished his PHD, specialising in health-related quality of life in elective orthopaedics alongside the struggle of start-up life. When asked how it does it all, Jamie tells me “I make sure that I get up well in the morning. In the Airforce, my bed always had to be perfect with 45 degree angles that you can bounce a coin off it… and all of that. Making sure that something is done really well… it’s one of the key things that I learnt, it sets me off on a good track.”
The biggest challenge the industry faces now is awareness and education. The good news for Minicrops is that an increasing amount of restaurants have nutrition in mind and are willing to try new things. Hence why the B2B business is booming.
Having heard the horror stories, we were dying to know how they were coping being both partners in life and business. A little knowing smile says it all: “It really hasn’t been an issue at all, we compliment each other really well and thankfully we’re not working 24h/7 together,” Marie-Alexandrine tells me. Turns out, Jamie’s ‘DJ’ing’ side hustle indirectly led to the founding of the venture— it’s where our lovely couple met.
“I was doing a set in Milton Keynes. We simply got chatting afterwards and the rest is history,” Jamie recounts.
We are more than excited to be supporting these amazing entrepreneurs, and you will soon be able to eat these micronutrient-rich micro-greens in Vita Mojo restaurants.