“It’s actually the first of its type” – local filmmakers showcase underground bioponic farm in Sheffield

Words: Emily Fletcher 

Former builder Luke Ellis has taken root beneath a well-known Kelham Island courtyard, transforming the underground space into a sustainable, bioponic farm called Leaf & Shoot.

Local filmmakers Jordan Carroll, Brett Chapman and Lewis Coates first discovered Luke’s farm while recording a music video. Lewis, who helped produce the documentary, was the one who came across a call out from Quorn asking for pitches on short documentaries exploring the future of food sustainability. They contacted Luke and set about showcasing the vital – and potentially game-changing – work he’s doing here in the Steel City. 

Following the release of the short doc, available to view with a free sign-up on WaterBear, I spoke to Jordan and Luke to find out a bit more about the project. 

So Luke, how did you come across this type of farming?
Well, it’s actually the first of its type. Essentially, it was a direct answer to the fact that hydroponics, which is used in outdoor farming, is not sustainable. So, looking at the hydroponics industry made me look at researching ways to run an indoor farm that is sustainable.

In the film, you explain how you were in the trade for over 20 years. What made you decide to change career paths?
I really liked the idea of an indoor farming business. I’d been building for 20 years, so I was looking for a change and wanted to get into something that actually made a change. I also really liked growing stuff. I did it as a hobby in my spare time, so I thought if I were to do it as a business, I had to do it the way that [Leaf & Shoot is] run at the moment. It’s also a USP, so it’s good for the planet and good for the market in regards to teaming up with our local shops and restaurants.

“Looking at the hydroponics industry made me look at researching ways to run an indoor farm that is sustainable”

You also mentioned that when you start a business nowadays you should look at being as sustainable as possible. What does sustainability mean to you?
It means that whatever you’re doing, whenever you’re doing it, you ask the question: “Is this sustainable?” It could be as little as using label printers, plastic bags or deciding what to put into the soil mix. We apply this question to all our working practices, what we buy and how we deal with things. On the farm, every time we do something, we try to find the most sustainable way of doing it. You don’t need to be a sustainability expert at all. For example, perlite, which is little white stones that go through loads of unethical processing, just to go in our soil mixes and I thought, do we really need white stones in our soil? So, I looked at more sustainable options. At the minute we are using heat-treated rice husks, which is basically the organic alternative to perlite. We get them from abroad, but we are currently looking into finding an alternative from the UK. We are already ahead of what people are already asking.

What do you think this type of farming can do for the future?
Well, the future of farming will eventually be coming indoors. Seasons are becoming more and more unpredictable, so outdoors hydroponic farms will come indoors.

It means that whatever you’re doing, whenever you’re doing it, you ask the question: “Is this sustainable?”

Jordan, how did you come across the farm?
Well, weirdly enough I came across the farm because I was shooting a music video in the basement of the farm. Then I met Luke and got talking to him and realised this would be a great idea for a short film. Then Luke came to me asking if I’d seen the pitch for Quorn, so essentially it came from two directions and was just the perfect recipe.

What made you so interested in the farm that you wanted to make a film on it?
I believe it’s always good to make a film that has meaning and purpose. Making work for an advertisement or business can be superficial and I wanted to do a documentary on people doing good in the world and Luke came to mind.

I’ve made a bunch of documentaries supporting independent stuff as I’m really passionate about Sheffield and Sheffield businesses. So, Luke’s farm ticked that box because he’s a local business connected with other local businesses. When you make a documentary, you want a strong subject matter. So many things come under it –  having a character is one of them, and Luke was that character. People won’t connect without a character and Luke sells the idea of sustainability; you need a character to sell the narrative and that is what Luke did.

Following Luke on his rounds, delivering fresh produce to local businesses in Sheffield.

When you came to filming it, what were you most keen to get across – was it Sheffield, Luke, or the environmental aspect?
The most important part was Luke – that was the core thing. We had done a massive multimedia approach, which is all fun and keeps people interested, but from day one this was definitely a character piece, so we pitched it that way.

Initially, we made it too formal so we then stripped it back, no lights, just cameras sort of like a day in the life of Luke. All the best bits then came from when we just followed him around on his E-bike, going to local businesses, etc. If it was too formal, he would have reverted to a formal persona. It was a pleasure to film the whole thing.

As well as this, when filming we ensured our production was as sustainable as possible. We got the highest level of sustainability [using the albert toolkit], which was quite hard to do. We did a lot of offsetting such as when driving around following Luke, and it was quite a pleasure to know we got credited as a sustainable production.

The full film is available to watch for free on the Waterbear network HERE (just a small sign-up is needed). 



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