Farming Robot Research at the University of Lincoln Supports Valuable Community Café Initiatives

People in Lincoln are enjoying the fruits of key agricultural and robotic research projects at the University of Lincoln’s Riseholme campus thanks to a new partnership which is supporting some of the most vulnerable in society.

Thanks to a number of farming projects taking place at Riseholme, the University has been growing a significant crop of strawberries on its ‘robotic’ fruit farm and fresh vegetables from its walled garden. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, these have been donated to Mint Lane Café in Lincoln to support the valuable work it does in the community.

Mint Lane Café is a community café and charitable organisation, which makes nutritious meals for those in food poverty by using ingredients which might otherwise be wasted. The café offers a three course meal for £3 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and also offers food to purchase and take home at very low prices.

The University is part of the Lincoln Food Partnership which is currently developing a City Food Hub, combining all three of Lincoln’s food banks and the Mint Lane Café. As a collective, the Lincoln Food Partnership is opening a ‘membership’ supermarket for those who are eligible for food bank support and they are currently sourcing regular food suppliers to help keep it stocked.

The fresh produce grown at the University of Lincoln comes mainly from the Strawberry Research and Trial Site. A number of research projects take place on this site, as part of a collaboration between the University of Lincoln, Saga Robotics and Berry Gardens Ltd. Supported by Innovate UK funding, the projects focus on using new autonomous systems to increase productivity growth, improve food safety, and reduce the environmental impact of soft fruit production.

Example projects include GRASP-berry, which focuses on the development of high-speed picking robots for soft fruit, and The First Fleet, which aims to produce the world’s first fleet of multi modal soft fruit robots.

Nigel Curry, Co-chair of the Lincoln Food Partnership said: “It is brilliant that the Riseholme Campus is able to divert some of its produce into the local food system. Mint Lane Café provides food to people often in food poverty and receiving fresh food is especially important to help improve people’s diets.

“The Café also can make nourishing meals from this fresh produce and supply the food banks with it. The strawberry jam is particularly popular!”

Jonathan Trotter is Research Projects Coordinator for the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT) at the University. He said: “We’re pleased to be supporting these highly important community projects with the fresh food we’re growing at Riseholme. Previously, our strawberries have supplied catering outlets at the University, but we’re delighted to be able to share them with the wider community, especially in such difficult times.”