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How our innovation team has been helping Dornoch-based community interest company, Gro for Good
Most people tend to be winding down their work commitments when they reach their seventies, but not Hugh Fullerton-Smith. Hugh set up community interest company Gro for Good in 2020, in response to what he sees as humanity’s biggest challenges in the decades to come: access to high quality, locally grown food and declining mental health.
Gro for Good promotes community-run aquaponic food production, with circular economy principles, zero food miles and zero waste at its heart. Aquaponics combines elements of aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (horticulture without soil) in a highly efficient system that produces fish, herbs, vegetables and salads sustainably, with minimal inputs.
Hugh had the idea for Gro for Good at the back of his mind for several years, having seen the opportunity for such an organisation during his career working with indigenous communities and on large-scale land management projects. When Alladale Wilderness Reserve asked him to project manage a new aquaponic garden on their behalf in 2019, Hugh finally got the chance to turn his vision into reality. At Alladale, Hugh put in place a fully-fledged, recirculating aquaculture system that is now producing nutritious fish and high-quality vegetables on a weekly basis.
Seeing a working example spurred him on to set up Gro for Good, and the unexpected downtime caused by COVID-19 gave him the headspace he needed to get it off the ground - as well as confirming his fears around food security and global supply chains. As Hugh says, “Opportunities come out of these things. I would never have done this if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.”
“I have long been troubled by the decline of the nutritional content and security of our food chain”, he continues. “Trying to get fresh food that hasn’t travelled thousands of miles is a real challenge: most products we get our hands on have been subjected to many different processes, like fungicides and pesticides. On top of this, from 1950 to today, 40% of the nutritional value of vegetables, salad crops and fruits has been lost, in large part due to increasingly poor soil quality.”
It can be quite lonely kicking off a business, and Rowan has really kept me on track - you can be too close when something is your baby. To get Rowan’s support right from the off when launching something brand new has been brilliantHugh Fullerton-Smith, Founder , Gro for Good CIC
Hugh contacted our innovation team in the early stages of Gro for Good’s set up, and we put him in touch with Rowan Norrie, one of our innovation advisers. Rowan has worked with Hugh over the course of several months to help him develop his pitch and apply for funding. She’s also worked with him on the development of a new website, and introduced him to civil engineer Amber Johnston, who has since become a project manager at Gro for Good.
Hugh says, “It can be quite lonely kicking off a business, and Rowan has really kept me on track - you can be too close when something is your baby. To get Rowan’s support right from the off when launching something brand new has been brilliant. As a relatively new entrant with a small team, we quickly identified the power of collaboration to help us achieve our mission.”
Hugh’s approach has already started to catch the eye of influential organisations. Samsung (UK) recently committed funding to build an Aquaponic Training Centre at Alladale, with education programmes designed and delivered by another Highlands-based social enterprise, Farmer Jones Academy. There are plans in place to carefully measure the impact on young people of being involved with the gardens, looking at the STEM knowledge they gain, their engagement levels, and their personal development as a result. This educational aspect is another passion of Hugh’s, and it’s the perfect learning environment for STEM enthusiasts as aquaponics requires knowledge of all the sciences to carefully balance the needs of the plants and the fish.
With a Scottish Green Energy Awards win already under his belt in the Sustainable Development category, and contracts to be signed imminently with councils in the Central Belt for aquaponics projects, the future looks exciting for Gro for Good.
We are setting out on an ambitious path. Ultimately, we want to give people a greater sense of belonging and purpose, at the same time as nurturing them from the inside out with high-quality, readily available foodHugh Fullerton-Smith, Founder, Gro for Good CIC
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