Grahame Dunling is a fourth-generation grower with over 40 years of horticultural experience. In fact, he is also known as ‘Mr Salad’ because, as one of his peers once said, “What he doesn’t know about salads isn’t worth knowing!”. Having helped his parents out with their market garden business as a youngster, he started his own greenhouse company immediately after leaving college. He later moved into consultancy and advised on projects all over the world. An assignment for the Royal Family in Bahrain in 2013 led to him staying in the Middle East for seven years – first as a consultant who successfully transformed the fortunes of the ailing Peninsula Farms, and subsequently as CEO of Uns Hydroponic Farms, the first and still the biggest operational warehouse vertical indoor farm in Dubai.
Grahame recently moved back to the UK to work on an exciting new venture together with his son, Matthew. In December 2020, they launched the company Worldwide Local Salads (WWLS) to produce premium salads with a focus on quality and flavour. Grahame clearly knows how to create flavoursome salads, because he was made honorary member of the Chefs Guild in the Middle East for his salad mixes. “As WWLS, we are not aiming at discounters, but rather at high-end retailers whose customers appreciate quality and are prepared to pay a little more for something really special,” he explains.
The salad vegetables will be produced in vertical farms. “The industry is going through a change,” continues Grahame. “Vertical farming is attracting huge investment, but most companies don’t have commercial horticultural knowledge. Our strength lies in our ability to transfer our existing knowledge from the high-tech greenhouse sector to the indoor vertical farm sector while taking account of the differences. In effect, in a greenhouse you’re always ‘fighting’ the elements using techniques such as heating, cooling and shading, whereas in a vertical farm or ‘warehouse’ it’s about controlling the elements.”
This means managing the microclimate with the utmost precision. “A vertical farm can have more humidity problems than a greenhouse due to the higher plant density, but we’ve been working with sensors since the mid-70s and have adapted them especially for this purpose. We have even developed our own brand of LEDs with their own unique spectrum. This allows us to grow all crops, which will be mainly baby-leaf and whole-head lettuces, but also tomatoes, cucumbers, chilis, capsicums or strawberries, using the same approach and the same machinery – including the same LEDs,” says Grahame.