To provide support and jobs for people with mental health challenges we're building an indoor hydroponic vertical farm growing micro greens.
by Rob Moores in Leeds, England, United Kingdom
Thank you for visiting our crowdfunding page. Thanks to the overwhelming support that we've received from individuals, organisations and Santander's Changemaker Fund we have succeeded in reaching our target. We still have a few hours left to starting biting into our stretch target - and to hand out more great rewards in return for pledges!
What’s this all about ?
We're Growing Better and we support and advocate for people facing mental health challenges by providing therapeutic, social and work opportunities in an urban farming social enterprise. We're also determined to show that mental health isn't a barrier to business success and so our organisation is a sustainable trading enterprise rather than being reliant on grants.
With your help we’ll build a hydroponic vertical farm in a shipping container in Leeds to grow micro greens which we will sell to local chefs, specialist wholesalers and retailers, and direct to the public at farmers markets and online.
You can find out more at our web site here
So why do you want to do this ?
In 2016 we had a successful summer growing and selling baby leaf salad and herbs. We provided paid and volunteer work for 8 people, almost all self-identifying as having mental health issues. However, people need support throughout the year not just in the outdoor growing season - and that's the main driver behind our project - to create an urban farm that produces food, employment and better mental health all year round.
There's plenty of evidence that growing produce is good for your mental health, for example:
On top of that, being a part of our Growing Better team reduces isolation and stress, improves confidence and self-esteem, provides skills and work experience and encourages peer support - all of which help improve mental health and social and work re-integration.
On a broader level, as urban farmers we want to help build a sustainable, local, independent food ecosystem, reduce food miles, develop innovative and non-toxic ways of growing food, and support community growing.
What will you use the funds for exactly?
Our plan is to grow in an insulated shipping container – and this is what our project will specifically fund. It will enable us to employ the equivalent of 3 full time people (more likely 5-6 part-time given our focus on recruiting people with mental health problems), and run 6-12 week work and social integration programmes for many more.
All the money we raise will go towards buying the shipping container, racks, trays, and irrigation and lighting systems we need to operate our farm on a commercial basis. It doesn't come cheap - professional horticultural lighting costs around £200 per square metre of growing space and our container will have 30 square metres of growing space!
Can you make a success of this ?
Yes we can! We believe that a successful social enterprise has to be a successful enterprise first in order to be able to deliver on its social mission - and so we've put a lot of effort into validating our business model and plan, and in finding the right business partners.
We have a very experienced team behind this project, most of whom have lived experience of mental health problems...
Growing Better is a company limited by guarantee - we have members rather than shareholders. We are also registered as a Community Interest Company (CIC). We set the business up in this way to provide confidence in our commitment to our social mission (especially with reference to the CIC asset lock).
Who else is involved in this ?
Although new to many people, hydroponics is well understood in the horticultural industry. Our partners include TCE - the team that designed and built the very successful Growing Underground vertical farm in London.
Will this work?
We're as certain as we'll ever be: we've been in trials for the past 3 months, working out what grows best under what conditions, how to manage food safety - and what customers want to buy.
Our customers think so too! We've got our produce trialling in a couple of local grocers, samples to and commitment from some of the top restaurants in Leeds, and four regional wholesalers interested in buying from us, one of whom has agreed to take 40% of what we can produce at full capacity.
What happens next?
We already have a secure location in Leeds for the container - and in return for developing a community farm on the site we will only pay rent when we make a profit.
We have a detailed blueprint of our growing systems, customers ready to purchase and additional job roles ready to advertise. We also have a contract with Leeds Community Foundation to run a pilot mental health improvement programme.
Please help us build our urban farm with your donation so that we can provide support, real jobs and a better future for people learning to better manage mental health challenges. We've got some great rewards for you and plenty of good karma - and microgreens - to hand out!
This project offers rewards in return for your donation.