Farm Urban were delighted to be asked to give a talk at this year’s TEDx meeting in Liverpool. This was a big honour for us, as we’re big fans of TED talks and have whiled away many an evening being educated and amazed by all the inspirational speakers that have given TED talks over the years.
Although it was a huge accolade for us, appearing at TEDx was also pretty terrifying as it’s the largest stage that Farm Urban have appeared on so far. On the positive side, it felt like we were finally unfurling our wings and stepping out into the glare of the wider world after all the work that we’ve done largely out of the public eye.
As TEDx talks are given by a single person, Paul stepped up to the plate and agreed to be the speaker. Jens pretended to be disappointed on missing out on the chance to speak, but ensured he made enough feeble excuses about being mid write-up of his PhD and overburdened with other work just in case Paul thought about changing his mind.
In the weeks leading up to TEDx Paul wrote the talk during his morning dog walk (where all his best ideas come). His dog Poppy helped him hone the talk and is now so traumatised by the experience she runs a mile just on hearing the word aquaponics. Paul wanted the talk to have a visual element to it, so we started working on some slides and graphics with the amazing guys at Two-Cans, who also did the graphics for our website and logo. Two-cans have demonstrated a formidable work ethic, endless patience and great creativity, as the ideas were bounced back and forth and the graphics and timings of the slides slowly came together.
We decided that the TEDx event would be a great opportunity to show off our new vertical farming system the Vend. The Vend uses Vydrofarm technology to flip the idea of a vending machine on its head, instead of being filled with crisps, chocolate and sugar water the Vend is packed full of living herbs and salad plants. TEDx organisers Herb and Marie loved the idea of having the system on stage, and we were keen to show it off as we will be taking these systems to cafes and restaurants so that their customers can live-harvest fresh salad and herbs on-site. The plan of having it on the stage seemed like a great idea at the time, and in retrospect was, but the in-between bit was somewhat of a nightmare and had us frequently wondering what on earth we were doing. Our Vend’s usual home, along with the 150 plants that live in it, is in the basement of the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC, so in order to see if we could get it out and set up in reasonable time, we gave it a test run at event on the circular economy organised by the Liverpool Waste Authority at Constellations. After having dismantled it and put it all back together again, we realised we could do it, but it was hard work involving lots of heavy lifting and swearing. However, it was too late to back out, so we dismantled it again, packed it into the van, and drove it to the Liverpool Exhibition Centre for its second, somewhat-slicker, set up of the weekend.
Once we saw it set up on the stage opposite the stunning grand piano that was played so beautifully by Hayley Parks, and with the verdant plants basking in the pink glow of the lights, all the effort seemed worth it. When we later saw our lettuces dancing to the music of Ukebox, we knew for certain we’d made the right decision.
We ended our day of hard work by joining the other TEDx speakers in Lunya, an outstanding Catalan delicatessen and restaurant run by Elaine and Peter Kinsella. Peter is a former TEDx speaker and so knew all about the pre-talk nerves that all the other speakers admitted having. He also knew that an endless procession of the finest tapas, glasses of fine wine and the company of an inspirational group of people is the perfect way to overcome most obstacles. By the end of the night we were not only thoroughly relaxed, fed and watered (well, more wined to be fair), we’d also forged new relationships and felt that the meeting the next day was less something to be feared, and more an occasion to be shared with our new friends.
When the day came, we were all shattered, but excited over what was to come. The first speaker was Sophie Radcliffe, whose good looks and petite stature, along with her approachable and friendly manner hide an almost superhuman willpower and athletic prowess. Sophie has completed feats of endurance most of us would think we could only dream of, but she is on a mission to show how anything is possible if you challenge your limitations and believe anything is possible. Having dismantled and rebuilt a Vend three times in two days, we think we have some idea what she is talking about.
Paul was next and despite being nervous came across as incredibly calm and collected. His passion for what we’re trying to do in Farm Urban shone through, and the audience both in the hall and online were incredibly receptive and friendly. We’ve received so much good feedback since the talk and it’s really re-energised us to keep moving forward with what we’re doing.
The rest of the talks were as inspiring as you’d expect. Amanda Regan told us how to ordinary people can do rocket science, Bernie Hollywood showed us how to realise our inner superhero, and Ukebox and Ben Howard tore up the stage with ukeleles and virtuoso guitar playing respectively. Jennifer Arcuri taught us about ethical hacking (whilst nursing a broken foot), Tomas Carruthers showed us how to hack stock markets, Chris Bailey taught us how to be productive by waking up late and meditating and Sam Aaron, hot on the heels of being featured in Rolling Stone magazine, took the roof off with his software for writing music.
Steve Clayton told stories about telling stories at Microsoft, Rangan Chatterjee told us how to make diseases disappear, Hayley Parks made the grand piano sing and René Lydiksen had the whole audience building lego. All in all it was a truly fantastic day.
Even though it was a long day, we came away energised, so much so that even after packing down the Vend, we made it out for a meal with Sophie and Chris, who proved to be lovely dinner companions and with even more hidden talents, as Chris also showed us that as well as being King of Productivity, he is also Lord of the Yogic Backbend.
We feel privileged to have been involved in such a great event and to have met such amazing and inspiring people and look forward to what the future holds for all of us.