Modular cultivation concept for herbs: local for local and ultra-fresh

Tholen – How do you increase the availability of fresh herbs in a sustainable way? Upfarm tackled the problem and introduced a unique cultivation concept for agriculture in shops and restaurants. “We bring fresh, local, experience and technology together,” says owner Lode Lauwers in issue 3 of the trade magazine Primeur, published this spring.

Upfarm is an initiative of Lode Lauwers and his sister Eveline Lauwers. In corona times, they developed a cultivation concept to increase the availability of fresh leafy vegetables, herbs and watercress using modular cultivation greenhouses. The passion for herbs is no stranger to them; their father and uncles run the family business Vegobel in Duffel. This company grows a wide variety of fresh herbs in pots. “We grew up in horticulture, it was introduced to us from the beginning,” says Lode. “Corona has taught us how important local products are. I also wanted to combine technology with a good story. And that’s how Upfarm came about.”

Modular vertical greenhouse for agriculture in shops and restaurants

Ultra fresh and maximum experience
Upfarm now has a partnership with wholesaler for catering and food professional Metro. The store in Antwerp has a greenhouse of about twenty square meters, in which fresh herbs are grown. Lode: “The herbs are grown and distributed directly in the store. Restaurant owners and chefs from the Antwerp region can use the herbs harvested in the morning in their dishes the same day. A unique example of in-store farming. Each month there is a different selection of herbs available, a mix of well-known basic herbs and more special and exotic herbs. We notice that chefs always find it very surprising to take a look in the greenhouse. ”

To make the concept widely available, Upfarm developed a small version of the greenhouse. The modular vertical greenhouse of only one square meter makes farming in shops and restaurants possible. “You can compare it to your own cultivation in the garden or on the terrace, but then all year round. Everything in the greenhouse is geared to each other in such a way that the plants can grow under perfect conditions. Think of herbs, cress, leafy vegetables, edible flowers and so on. Our greenhouses can be set up anywhere and bring the products, so to speak, to the end user instead of the other way around. How cool is it for chefs to cut ultra-fresh edible flowers from the greenhouse just before serving while guests watch. It is the maximum experience. ”

No unnecessary packaging and food waste
The advantage of a modular greenhouse is that they can be placed anywhere. This allows the user to pick the herbs only when needed. “It is impossible to get fresher and the highest possible level of antioxidants and vitamins is guaranteed,” Lode adds. “Because the products are grown locally, you do not have to throw anything out and there is no need for unnecessary packaging. In addition, thanks to the optimal conditions in the greenhouse, the products are grown without pesticides. All herbs are safe and ready to use right away. “

Upfarm is suitable for both retail and food service. He notes that durability and accessibility are particularly important for retail. The product range is always adapted to the customer’s wishes. “For retail customers, it is often a standard herbal assortment, where we alternate with special varieties to try out new products and trigger consumers. Restaurant owners are really looking for inspiration, everything has to be super fresh, tasteful and sustainable. The offer to the catering industry is often tailored. We discuss the menu with chefs and offer suitable products. These are often the slightly special herbs, sprouts, edible flowers and seasonal toppers. Currently, we see many stews with some more classic herbs like thyme, oregano and parsley and much more special types of cilantro. And soon the greenhouse will be filled with edible flowers and herbs for salads and cocktails again. ”

The growing cabinets have their own microclimate, which is maintained 365 days a year

Entrepreneurs can excel with the mobile greenhouse. “A unique eye-catcher with added value,” says Lode. “And due to the high rotation of production, it is also profitable. What is special, of course, is the experience of the whole cultivation process. Consumers, chefs and retailers are seeing the product itself grow, you are literally right on top, which encourages use. We personally find the sustainable nature extremely important. Do not let herbs fly in, but work with local products. We germinate a large part of the herbs ourselves or have them germinated at Vegobel. The herbs are placed in the greenhouse as short-sprouted plants and are further grown according to taste, leaf size and smell. ”

Upfarm is now mainly active in Belgium, especially Antwerp. Other Belgian cities are also following suit, and talks with various parties in the Netherlands and Germany are planned. “The intention is to work with different herbal suppliers to supply customers as locally as possible.”

Upfarm’s greenhouse can in principle be installed in any desired location. However, the entrepreneur anticipates good opportunities for the city in particular. “Consumption here is high, while there is actually no room for cultivation. There are initiatives here and there with small town and roof gardens, but year-round cultivation is simply not possible. Our cabinets have their own microclimate that is maintained 365 days a year. By strategically placing these greenhouses in the city near restaurants, retail stores and offices, a whole new dynamic in the local fresh experience is possible. “

Service and maintenance of the smart greenhouse
It is good to know that Upfarm takes care of the maintenance of the greenhouse. Customers only need an electrical outlet and water pipes. “We are not just selling the greenhouse, we are selling the whole picture. We visit our customers every month for maintenance and we also check the cultivation from time to time, which is possible thanks to the smart technology and sensors in the greenhouse. ”

This article has been previously published in Volume 3, Volume 36 by Primeur. See

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