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Paignton Zoo pioneers vertical food production initiative

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 07, 2012

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An ethical approach to growing lettuces at Paignton Zoo has been chosen to illustrate a global business initiative.

The VertiCrop, an innovation which uses a specialist growing method to grow food naturally in urban environments, has been chosen to illustrate one of the principles of the Earth Charter – a declaration of ethical business principles.

The system is the first of its kind to go on public display anywhere in the world. It has been chosen to illustrate charter principle of promoting the recovery of endangered species and ecosystems. Every year the zoo spends an estimated £20,000 on lettuces to feed the animals. Philip Knowling, a Paignton Zoo spokesman, said: "This is an ethical business approach to growing lettuces. The VertiCrop is operated by a hi-tech conveyor system. Imagine a very tame lettuce roller-coaster, running round and round."

After being developed by a company called Valcent at their UK base in Cornwall, the VertiCrop system was set up in the zoo's greenhouses in 2009.

Mr Knowling added: "The knock-on effect has been a lot of extra interest and heavily subsidised food bills. One less lettuce to feed a monkey is one less lettuce for us to buy."

"We're hoping it'll go worldwide. It's very flexible and has a lot of potential to be used anywhere from a skyscraper to a desert. We've had a lot of interest at conferences, from groups and some international governments.

"It's cutting edge technology that might feed a population in the future."

Paignton Zoo curator of plants and gardens Kevin Frediani said: "High density vertical farming has enormous potential. Because it uses less water, less space and less energy, it could work equally well in cities, producing fresh food with zero food miles, in deserts, using solar power, or in developing countries, reducing the need to destroy natural habitat for agricultural purposes."

The project was first chosen after a talk given by Mr Frediani at the School of Social Entrepreneurs in London.

He added: "The framework of the Earth Charter adds credibility. Each principle of the Earth Charter is illustrated with a case study from a UK business, placing the actions of UK companies in the context of a global view of sustainability. It shows that business can be ethical and successful."

Vertical farming has been recognised as an innovative approach to farming by reducing the amount of energy, space, and water needed to grow food.

The charter, which came out of the 1992 Earth Summit, has been formally endorsed by organisations including the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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