The farming revolution that started in a basement

3 Mins read

The mother-and-daughter duo who’ve won awards for their microgreens tell Artefact how important this popular superfood is.

For centuries, farmers have tried to grow their produce in less space with less soil, but nothing has come close to what vertical farming is able to offer.

First practiced in the 1990s, vertical farming is the process of growing food in factory-style environments without the natural resources agricultural farming offers, like sunlight.

Plant pots are stacked vertically and illuminated by innovative LED lighting. The carbon footprint of this approach to farming is much lower than traditional methods.

64-year-old Frances Pairaudeau and daughter Helena Hidalgo, 31, have embraced this technique to create Islington-based Greens Made Easy, a company farming and selling microgreens grown indoors.

“I’ve been a teacher also and I’m dismayed by the food children eat, and this is a way to have children eat well,” says Frances, who has a biology degree.

Helena and Frances, Greens Made Easy founders, near their Old Street farm
Helena (left) and Frances (Right), Greens Made Easy founders near their Old Street farm [Fellipe Pigatto de Andrades]

In recent years, microgreens have become a trend in the food world. Their tasty leaves are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, providing an alternative to mature vegetables and are ready to harvest within a few days.

“In a 40-gram portion, easily eaten in one meal, you get half your daily iron, half your daily magnesium, 40% of your vitamin B, a quarter of your calcium, a quarter of your vitamin C. It’s just like having a multivitamin,” says Helena.

Helena says they can be added to anything, but that she would like to see them less as an addition to a meal and as something more substantial. “We want to see it used much more, you know, liberally over pizzas or in sandwiches, salads, soups, stews, not just as a garnish.”

The way in which microgreens are grown and sold is also very sustainable. There are no ‘food miles’ involved and only 5% of the water used in agricultural farming is used to make microgreens.

“15 million litres of water are needed for an acre of broccoli, as opposed to seven thousand for the same amount of nutrients found in microgreens,” says Frances.

Microgreens growing at TownSq in Islington.
The Greens Made Easy farm in Old Street, London [Samantha Dix]

Their ten different varieties of microgreens — including coriander, peas, beetroot, and radish — are grown in a basement in Old Street with the help of Islington Council and TownSq, a company that supports start-ups and provides co-working spaces across the UK.

“We heard about their start-up programme and they helped us find a location and gave it to us at a really supportive price,” says Frances, “we had ten sessions on finance, marketing, and legal. They’ve been incredibly helpful.”

Aside from their business, Frances and Helena also do workshops for schools in Islington. They teach children how to eat, cook and grow microgreens: “We are teaching them how important it is to eat healthily, but also how real-life nature works,” Frances tells us.

The pair also won UK Entrepreneurs of the Year at the Shine Programme Awards in 2022, operated by Swiss Re – a reinsurance company based in Zurich – which will support them in their journey to make their business thrive.

“They have done this programme in Asia and Europe, but it’s the first time they’re doing it here. So, we are the first people to have won it,” says Helena. “We will get a team with all sorts of specialists; a tax specialist, a customer psychology specialist. It’s going to be amazing.”

“The achievements Frances and Helena have made already are outstanding, and thoroughly deserved given their hard work and genuine passion for health and environmental issues. It’s clear that local people have responded really well to the business so far as the products have been immensely popular,” said Anna Chuicharoen, General Hub Manager at TownSq Islington.

“We are proud to have played a small role in Frances and Helena’s early business development and look forward to seeing what Greens Made Easy will achieve next.”

The mother and daughter are at Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market every Sunday and at Pimlico Farmers’ Market every other Saturday. They also sell their produce to chefs in London and deliver in Islington and Camden.

Frances says their mission is to feed as many people as possible with clean, fresh nutrient-dense food, with Helena adding: “To be at the point where we are at, we are very lucky. We’re just at the beginning. The more impact we can have not just for the people, but for the planet too, the better. I hope we grow as much as possible, no pun intended.”

This article was edited on November 16 to add the quotes provided by TownSq Islington.

Featured image by Fellipe Pigatto de Andrades.

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