Across the Pond, Urban Farms Are the Next Big Thing

A vertical farming boom is happening in Ireland. Two Cork City urban farms established themselves amidst the chaos of 2020, casting doubt aside during a year that saw entrepreneurs and small businesses pushed to their limits. Lockdowns in Ireland presented hardships, but they also allowed room for four Cork City locals to consider how to be problem solvers.

Green Towers Ireland paved the way by starting their farm in Nov. 2019 during one of the city’s coldest weeks. Founders Jenny Twomey and Jillian O’Brien started growing in a glass house with 12 Towers on display for everyone to see. Their idea was “farm to fork.” Meaning, everything sourced would be better than local - it’d be grown on-site using their Tower Gardens.  

Towmey and O’Brien placed a Tower Garden inside a neighborhood restaurant, which caught the eye of local resident, Brian MacCarthy. What grew next was a partnership that would form Cork Rooftop Farm, a passion project born out of lockdown, with founders Brian McCarthy and Thay Carlos needing something to work on after their own jobs shut down. 

“I was fascinated,” said McCarthy. “We had been looking at hydroponics and aeroponics and were looking at what we could do on our rooftop, and discovered that someone was already doing it within the city, so we reached out. We then tried three Towers over the summer to get a feel for them, as well as the response people would have to that form of growing - and it was really positive.”

As a country, Ireland is focused on becoming more green. They’re investing more in renewable energy and shifting toward more sustainable modes of transportation. Ireland is also a part of the European Green Deal, which includes key policies around reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving Europe’s natural environment.

“Taking care of the planet is big here <in Ireland>, there are a lot of targets we are trying to hit in terms of being carbon neutral,” said Twomey. “We wanted to start small with our farm, and to test the market. But to think now, only a year later, Cork Rooftop Farm has also started growing is just incredible.”

While they recognize the value in being the first ones in the city to start urban farms, they also understand that they won’t be the last ones. 

“There is a crowd in Dublin doing container farms. I haven’t seen anyone else in Cork take on vertical farming yet, but we do inspire others to start,” said Twomey. “Cork Rooftop Farm is in the city center and spills right into a market. They are producing food where people live and work and play. People want to support them because they are right there.”

Not only is running an urban farm appealing to those who are interested in taking control of their own food supply, but according to the 2020 CEA Census Report, women in agriculture are on the rise, representing 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor, with around five percent operating within controlled environment agriculture.

“Traditionally agriculture tends to be a male dominated industry,” said Twomey. “It’s not that much of a stretch to think that women should be more involved with knowing and growing where their food comes from, growing their own and knowing the connection from seed to salad. Traditional agriculture is more work with digging and weeding, but everyone can be a Tower Farmer.”

And for O’Brien, this isn’t even her full time job. Not only is she a mom, but she’s a dental hygienist with a love for farming. 

“Farming isn’t my first language, dentistry is,” said O’Brien. “That’s my other life. Monday I might be a farmer and Tuesday I might be a dental hygienist. It depends on which hat I’m wearing on the day. I find it so therapeutic, the whole process of minding the plants and growing the seedlings. It’s so rewarding. I would happily give up the day job. I’m ready for that now, almost.”

And while the last year hasn’t been the easiest to launch and run a business, both urban farms have big plans for the future, and look forward to post COVID-19 days to come. When asking about what advice they have to others about moving forward during this time, both farms agree that marketing your business is essential to your long-term success. 

“Marketing is key,” said McCarthy. “Without the marketing you will not get your message out there. Don’t be afraid to spend a bit of money on marketing. From day one we’ve been advertising, and that allowed us to bolster the organic growth in our followership. Because we expanded so quickly on social media, it opened up opportunities that we didn’t have to pay a cent for.”

To keep up with Cork Rooftop Farm and Green Towers Ireland, you can find them on Instagram at @corkrooftopfarm and @greentowersireland

 

Interested in farming? Let Tower Farms help you get started. Tower Farms are powered by multiple Tower Garden vertical aeroponic units, that can produce up to 250,000 plants at once on a single acre. Tower Farms growing systems are designed to flourish in urban environments. And that means you can farm within the community you feed to solve the problems of local food availability and quality. Contact Tower Farms today

 

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