We are an award-winning social enterprise in Oxfordshire looking to scale-up our horticultural business, but by growing in water rather than soil!
Smart Greens UK will introduce Aquaponics whereby leafy greens are grown alongside fish who will provide all of the nutrients that would otherwise be found in the ground.
CEO and co-Founder, Oliver explains:
"Aquaponics is the most environmental way to grow food and dates back hundreds of years. It doesn't need any chemicals or fertilizers and reduces water usage by up to 97%, compared to traditional horticulture.
Not only that, but it will it give us an amazingly productive means of growing on a small area that will bring in enough income for us to be financially independent - relatively unusual for a small social enterprise.
Aquaponics, as a food "technology" will provide us with an amazing outreach opportunity to go into schools and communities to combine practical learning from so many different subjects. We can introduce everything from life science and healthy eating through to engineering and mathematics in a fun and immersive way. And we can feed you! Read on and you will see why we are so excited."
We are Oliver and Ali and we co-founded Smart Greens UK.
Together with Dan, (our non-executive Board Member), we dig, build, plant, water, crop and do everything else involved in nurturing a little seed into a beautiful vegetable that appears on your plate.
We are passionate about fresh fruit and vegetables. We want the children and grandchildren of our friends and families to eat healthily. We also want people in Oxfordshire, and maybe wider, to be able to choose to eat fresh produce that is grown locally and to know how their food is grown.
We are strong believers in the benefits of horticulture to improve people's lives, so we set up as a social enterprise. We have proved that by engaging people in growing fresh produce, they not only start to eat more healthily but they also benefit from new skills, a greater confidence, and the time spent in the company of other like-minded individuals.
We focus on a commercial model that means we grow fresh produce for retail and wholesale markets, and direct sales. We are about to raise the stakes by investing in Aquaponics, alongside our traditional polytunnels, which means fantastic leafy greens all-year-round, and fresh fish too.
We have previously earned our stripes delivering a commercial crop plan with Category D prisoners in an Open Prison for five years, supported by the BIG Lottery.
Each year we grew hundreds of kilograms of the highest quality fresh produce, which we sold to the general public as seasonal veg bags, whilst also greatly improving the diet of the prisoners themselves. In the process, we delivered over 9,000 supervision hours per year, creating work-ready individuals with formal qualifications, boosting self-esteem and team building. These supervision hours did not have to be covered by prison officers, so we also saved the Prison Service (and the tax-payer) lots of money!
As our tenure at the Prison came to an end in the Autumn of 2016, we took the opportunity to pursue our longer-term ambitions. For the last year, we have been working hard to create an initiative that can work with a wider cross-section of people, that can deliver more education and that can raise the profile of the environmental future of food growing locally. This has included a very successful pilot project growing in north Oxfordshire, testing out our business plans.
Smart Greens UK will use a combination of traditional horticulture, and Aquaponics, to grow a range of high quality local fruit and vegetables direct for customers and for food businesses across the County. As a social enterprise, we will use our commerial operation to improve the lives of people locally through education, training, mentoring and companionship.
We have, so far, funded our traditional horticultural activities from our own personal funds and a brilliant small grant from the Finnis Scott Foundation (for our second mesh polytunnel). We pulled in favour after favour to help us in the construction phase of our pilot project. Hundreds of volunteer hours enabled us build polytunnels, to rabbit-proof growing areas and to maintain our first crops proving we can do this well away from the prison.
We sell everything that we grow and have built a strong reputation locally.
Our conversations about introducing Aquaponics have now given us an opportunity to lease a new site on an educational farm that has established links with schools across the County and a green energy co-operative. This significantly strengthens our aspirations and will be a good permanent move for the long-term future of our business.
We are massively excited about using Aquaponics. Oliver, our CEO, recently spent a week in rural Wales working with Aquaponics UK, and entrepreneurs all from all over the world, to learn the science to design a scheme that is right for us. We are now ready to go, with your help.
Aquaponics is the most natural way of growing. Here is how it works:
Basically, fish waste in the water feeds the plants, the plants clean the water and return it to the fish - as a constant cycle. No additives, no chemicals and no on-going water consumption. Plants grow quicker and healthier, but in water rather than soil!
We need some help to pull-together the funds for our Aquaponics set-up.
As far as we know, this will be the first commercial aquaponics set-up in Oxfordshire, certainly by a social enterprise. You may have seen examples of this emerging farming sector on programmes such as Countryfile recently.
We are looking to purchase:
- two new (one-trip) shipping containers to house the fish, all of the plumbing and the propagation area;
- a large-scale poly-tunnel to house the growing beds for our plants;
- all of the equipment, from fish tanks and growing beds to water pumps, filters and piping;
- solar PV panels to reduce our electricity consumption.
We are seeking £20,000, as part of a larger £45,000 total spend. The images below are representative of what our scheme will look like and we can share our business planning financials to higher contributors.
Your pledge will support an ambitious social enterprise that wants to use a commercial business model to achieve social good. We have proven that we are well capable of the challenge and are well on our way to building something inspiring again.
With your help we plan to:
- supply local people with high quality fresh produce and fish, either directly or through local business;
- work with local schools, encouraging children to understand about how food is grown and maybe inspiring them to grow their own at home;
- work with older people, at risk of loneliness and early onset dementia;
- create some educational research opportunities for local students;
- create some new local employment opportunities;
- contribute, where we can, to support lifestyle changes for those with chronic diet-related illness.
We have tried to be realistic in our demands and creative in our rewards. Almost everyone has children or older relatives, for whom we would do anything to increase their quality of life. This might be directly or through the organisations that support them such as schools, care homes and extra-curricular clubs for people of all ages.
We offer an opportunity that is innovative and not just about the financial contribution. We would also love you to get actively involved. There will always be jobs that need doing, whether it is feeding the fish, planting seeds or helping with the science as part of a school project or student dissertation. Just ask, or contact us through social media or our website...