A former builder has transformed the forgotten underground vaults of Kelham Island in Sheffield into a haven for producing organic produce.
Luke Ellis founded Leaf + Shoot four months ago and his underground farm is already producing a range of mushrooms, leafy greens and fresh herbs that are being sold directly to residents in the steel city. He started the company with the assistance of Launchpad, a programme that provides business support to new and aspiring entrepreneurs in the Sheffield city region.
Working with business adviser Andrew Bunn, Ellissecured a lease on unused cellar space hidden under 92 Burton Road and began transforming the empty space into the city’s first underground bioponics farm.
Since launching Leaf + Shoot the company has seen rapid growth, selling a wide selection of fresh produce to local restaurants, and delivering directly to customers around Sheffield. As part of his commitment towards building a sustainable, green business, Ellis decided to eliminate plastic from his business wherever possible, while the nutrients fed to his plants uses waste food, paper, used coffee and ash which is composted and turned into organic feed.
Ellis explained: “Bioponic vertical farming may sound like something straight out of the world of science fiction, but it is a sector that holds a lot of potential for growth and more importantly, offers solutions to issues like wasted food, inefficient traditional farming techniques, soil degradation, and address the challenges posed by climate change and global food shortages.
“As a child I would regularly help on my mum’s allotment, and I’ve always thought there’s something quite special about growing and harvesting your own food. As I began to learn about bioponics, I quickly realised most companies in the sector used high-tech, state-of-the-art equipment and facilities which typically required significant levels of investment yet delivered few environmental benefits. I wanted to create a way of making the technology far accessible to all. Going forward, I am hoping that Leaf + Shoot won’t just become well known for our produce, but a company that will help to inspire others to explore bioponic growing, helping us all to play our part in building a greener, more sustainable society.
“As I learned more about bioponics and the potential it could offer, I began experimenting with the concept in my home city of Birmingham, but it was only when I moved to Sheffield that it gave me the confidence to turn my hobby into a business. I moved to Sheffield to start the business feeling it was a place where it could work due to its attitude to innovation and sense of community.'
Bunn, a business adviser at the Sheffield City Region Launchpad Programme, added: “Luke approached Launchpad with a unique and innovative business idea in an emerging industry sector. At the same time, he also realised it was vital to get the fundamentals of running his business right from day one. Although he is no stranger to running a business, Luke was acutely aware that there are differences between becoming self-employed and setting up a limited company, and working in a new sector posed fresh challenges, particularly when it came to understanding his legal responsibilities.
“Although it is early days for the business Luke has already established a growing client base and the steps he has taken have helped plant the seeds for significant future growth and I’m looking forward to continuing working with Luke as his business continues to grow and evolve.”