Standards and regulations for food and food production are designed to contribute to food safety, health and social justice. There are various certificates on the food market that should make conditions of production transparent to the customers. Certifications are available for fish and meat products, fruit and vegetables and social aspects like fair trade. However, the growing market of vertical farming has not been included in certificates until now. New aspects in this form of agriculture cannot yet be taken into account – for example substrates or soilless cultivation.
The Association of Vertical Farming in cooperation with Control Union UK will launch a certificate for vertical farming products this year. Organifarms spoke to Henry Ernst, who works at Control Union, and Thomas Heller-Regenbogen, who is a grower of vertical farmed micro-greens from Germany.
Henry, you did a lot of research when developing the Vertical Farming label. What were the reactions of vertical farmers you consulted?
Henry: They were great! Almost everybody agreed that we need certain standards for the topic which haven’t been established yet. The growers as well as the researchers have seen lacks in standards like these.
Did you consider integrating the aspect of vertical farming into existing labels?
Henry: For us, creating a new label was the only option. Integrating aspects that are this new into an existing label would have caused more confusion than benefit. With the new label, we can be sure that we only consider the factors that are relevant for vertical farming and fit the specifics of the industry.
Thomas, your products from vertical farms have been certified with the EU Organic label. Why did you aim to have this label for your products?
Thomas: It was always an aspect of quality for us. We as founders all focus on buying good and high quality food with many nutrients and ideally no or as little pesticides as possible. So, we figured, if we will grow our own products, they have to match these criteria as well.
What is something that’s missing in current labels in your opinion?
Thomas: The issue we see with vertical farming often is the problem of sustainability – of course, we want to produce something that is good for health, but also for the environment. This is not so well-covered by the labels out there are right now. Especially aspects like energy and sustainable resources are a big part of making vertical farming future-proof though.
Is this what the new Vertical Farming Certificate will focus on, Henry?
Henry: Actually, yes! We are right now focusing very much on the sustainability aspect in Vertical Farming with the new certificate. It will cover aspects like the use of energy, water, nutrients and space for example.
Is the label something that will increase the trust in vertical farming products in your opinion?
Henry: I do hope that this will be a side effect. Through our label, we make the conditions of the farming more transparent, which of course can lead to more trust in the production and the industry. It’s always hard to understand something you can’t see into– that’s something that we can shed a little light into with our certificate. With a well-reasoned label, we give customers a tool with which they can equip themselves. And the better equipped they are, the more well-founded are their decisions.
Thomas: In our experience, the lack of trust in vertical farming or new methods in agriculture come from a lack of knowledge. When we take customers to our farms and explain to them how we work and how our products develop, most people are very curious and open minded. I think a certificate, if well explained and executed, can do its own part to this kind of education about vertical farming products.
What do you think is the future of the vertical farming certificate?
Henry: We are expecting the certificate to be further developed over the next years and decades. This system we are looking at is so new and changing that it is only normal for the certificate to be also evolving over time. There will be aspects like material and substrate improvements that the certificate will of course also consider.
Thomas: Our hope is, that this way, it will be assured that a label is just as reliable as other certificates that consumers can trust and still lives up to its dynamic environment. That is what customers benefit from!
When will we get to know everything about the new label?
Henry: At the VertiFarm fair in Dortmund, we will speak about all the details and give out more information about the process as well. We are very much looking forward to that!
Thank you for your time, Thomas and Henry!
To get to know more about MingaGreens, visit their website: https://minga-greens.de