Zero Carbon Farms (ZCF) is the newest Barn4 member to join the growing Barn4 community. We recently posed some questions to chief information officer Jakob Thomas to introduce what the company is working on. Read on to learn about the history of Zero Carbon Farms and where the business is headed in the future.
Blog questions and answers quick access:
Tell us about Zero Carbon Farms' growth journey so far.
"Our first working farm was built in Clapham, London, in a disused air-raid shelter some 33 metres underground. From here, we started supplying local grocers and restaurants - and as we expanded our capacity, we made the necessary technical, biosecurity and HR improvements to become BRC, Red Tractor, and M&S Select Farms certified.
This allowed us to stock many of the UK’s major retailers with our branded products, including Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Tesco and Ocado. We are currently expanding into food service, and we are now planning the opening of our second farm."
What inspired Zero Carbon Farms?
"As things stand, global agricultural activities are using up 38% of the global land surface, 70% of available freshwater and account for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Simultaneously, global food waste exceeds 1.3 billion tons annually, equating to 8% of global emissions. There is a mismatch in production, distribution and consumption.
Solving this crisis and redefining food systems is the inspiration for ZCF - because, without real action, supply chains are at risk of collapsing, and ultimately, food production is at risk of failing."
What do you think the next 50 years and the future of food will look like?
"The future of food needs to follow certain principles to exist - so we believe these principles must be upheld in all future food production for the survival of the industry and the planet:
Carbon-negative production and supply chain,
100% electric fleet,
Zero waste to landfill,
Sustainable packaging, and
For these principles to become a reality, building closed-loop systems for on-site water, waste, and energy recirculation are essential. Low food miles, packaging made from 100% recyclable or compostable materials, and external audits of waste disposal streams are requisites."
What are the future ambitions of Zero Carbon Farms?
"In the next twelve to 18 months, we plan to scale up our current operation and expand our production significantly with the opening of our second farm. Ensuring that we continue to look for the best practices while we grow and expand is of paramount importance. We are committed to both our carbon neutral and B Corp certifications, but the onus is on us to continue to push ourselves without compromise."
Why did you join the Barn4 community, and how do you think it will benefit Zero Carbon Farms?
"As one of the world’s leading crop science research centres, we saw real value in joining the Barn4 community. Access to NIAB’s availability of technical experts to support the development of agricultural technology is beneficial to us in this constantly evolving industry of vertical farming. Their expertise in plant genetics, genomics, and data science will give us an advantage over the competition as we move forward as a company."
If you were to advise a start-up, what would that be?
"We would advise startup founders in ag-tech to build a customer-centric business first and foremost. Within the space, much attention is paid to growing methods and technologies, which are no doubt critically important. However, the resulting product (the particular crop, its quality, consistency, specification, etc.) must match customers’ expectations as they don’t much care, for instance, whether a robot or a human does the work."
Can you introduce us to your team and their backgrounds?
"In the beginning, there were two. Now we have 32 dedicated urban farmers."
Richard Ballard, Co-Founder
"With ten years of experience in the industry, from preliminary technology and growing tests to high-level strategic planning, Richard is as passionate as ever about the sustainability cause and has become a respected voice on the topic, giving a TEDx talk and appearing on various panel discussions in the UK and abroad.
Richard is a board member at Fast Forward 2030, a network of UK entrepreneurs working towards the SDGs, and is a recognised Bill & Melinda Gates Goalkeeper."
Charlie Egerton-Warburton, CEO
"With a professional background in the equity capital markets, corporate finance and wealth management at a major international investment bank, and has acted as both a Finance Director and Chief Operating Officer, Charlie has been advising the company informally on matters such as financial management and financing strategy ever since he first became a shareholder in 2017.
He joined the Board in 2020 and was subsequently invited to take up his current executive role by members of the management team."
Olivia O'Brien, Business Development & IR Director
"Olivia O’Brien joined Zero Carbon Food in early 2016. Through her years at ZCF, she has touched all areas of the business and has helped steer the trajectory of the business through its stages of growth. She forms part of the senior executive team responsible for the company's strategic direction.
With experience in nonprofit management, Olivia was previously based in New York, managing the Aspen Institute’s New York City public programming and engagement. Olivia is delighted that through ZCF, she is part of the evolving agricultural industry and its steps towards sustainability."
Jakob Thomas, Chief Information Officer
"Jakob joined ZCF in 2019 and has since covered a variety of areas, including hands-on growing, restructuring the R&D team, building up ZCF’s data infrastructure and launching the licensing and consulting business. His background is in financial services and economic research."