Rich and I (Steven) are friends from childhood and moving from the rural outskirts of Bristol to the smog of the Big Smoke (as our West Country friends refer to London) never removed our desire to be among farming folks and produce grown locally by someone you know.
I dived off into a world of marketing and management of a company distributing products to the catering industry and Rich started a burgeoning film career going back to study the flicks. However this didnâ€™t dent my desire to search the food markets of London for amazing produce with excellent provenance and Rich was happy to eat this while telling me how we need to change the world and how the current systems were broken.
After a lot of pub arguments about the future of oil, energy and food we moved on to some slightly more intellectual debates about the future of London. We both knew we would never leave this great city, but were also aware (mainly because Rich told me) of the fact that the population was going to increase by three million people in a decade. Now I canâ€™t afford London prices now how the hell am I going to afford them with all those extra bodies muscling in?
Rich had convinced me to read Dickson Despommier and Jeremy Rifkin and eventually I crossed the rubicon and realised that without some major changes London, and everywhere else for that matter, had to change the way we approach our carbon hungry society otherwise there wonâ€™t be a society.
This galvanised us into wanting to be part of the change that was needed and food and produce was a subject we both had some form of experience of and also some desire to get back to our farming West County roots. The only way to feed the growing population was to do it without using any carbon and by having no dependence on fossil fuels. ZCF was born.
Lots of research, about a year of it, putting in the hours learning about how we would produce vast amounts of food to feed London and do it without any environmental impact. We soon realised that the one area where we lacked actual experience was growing. We could put together a business that made a profit, market it and manage the day to day aspects of sales, operations, managing anyone that worked for us but we didnâ€™t know at what ph level soil should be to grow the perfect red vein sorrel.
During our research into LED lighting our future supplier gave us the contact details of a man called Chris Nelson. What this man has forgotten about growing isnâ€™t worth knowing. He is a growing genius. Iâ€™ve seen him from 30ft tell me that at some stage our test plants didnâ€™t get the lighting they needed for a couple of days. I realised I had set the timer wrong! Busted.
As Chrisâ€™s wife said â€œYou could have phoned anyone else in the agriculture industry and they would have laughed down the phone at youâ€ but when I told Chris we wanted to create and urban farm, 33m below London, with no natural light, using hydroponics he said â€œYeah letâ€™s do itâ€.
We drove to Hull to meet Chris and his family and Tonya his wife laughed when we got there and said â€œWe didnâ€™t think you existedâ€, believing nobody to be mad enough to attempt what we were proposing. Following a lunch, an afternoon of work, dinner and a few night caps with Tonya, Chris and Rich and my partners, the deal was sealed. We couldn’t have found a nicer and more knowledgeable man to work with.