Smart Greens UK Work Experience, By Emily in Year 11

STEM Careers

An insight into aquaponics; a more sustainable and efficient form of farming, and a summary of what the extraordinary work experience offered by Smart Greens is like.

When most people think of work experience, they think of sitting in a silent office for a week, helping out at a friend of a friend’s company, or perhaps volunteering at a GP.  However, my work experience at Smart Greens was completely different to anything I was used to, and I am very grateful for it.  I have learnt so much on the topic of food security and production; how this is being impacted by recent climate change, growing population and ethics.

Smart Greens UK is a social enterprise that was set up just over a year ago in Oxfordshire, that uses aquaponics to grow fresh salad leaves and herbs and organic agriculture (meaning there are no chemicals used) to grow a range of other vegetables in the ground.  Aquaponics is an early method of farming that originated in the Philippines; it is when plants are grown not in soil but in water by floating in rafts so that the roots reach the water but the leaves are not submerged. This water is constantly flowing through the system, where it also flows through fish tanks.  The water filters through the fish tanks towards the plants carrying dissolved minerals from the fish waste. This water becomes nitrified by flowing past nitrifying bacteria so it is suitable for plant use.  The nitrates in the water act as fertiliser for the plants, meaning that no artificial fertilisers need to be added to the plants.  As the water is constantly being pumped around the whole system, a steady supply of minerals are consistently being provided to the plants, as well as oxygenated water to the fish.  This is a much more efficient way to farm as the plants can be grown much closer together in the water as they are not competing for minerals, and do not ever have to be watered.  Aquaponics uses 95% less water than traditional farming techniques.  The plants grow much faster than in traditional farming as the optimal conditions are maintained the whole time they are growing.  In addition, the plants are grown under poly tunnels, meaning the temperature is warm enough for herbs to grow all year round.

From day one, my work experience was full of practical work, such as: testing water quality, harvesting crops by hand, repotting the aquaponics, salt bathing the fish and even managing the social media.

On Tuesday, I was given the opportunity to go and help out at the farmers market, where the crops grown by Smart Greens are sold to the local community.  This gave me an insight into the business side of agriculture, and I was able to speak to customers and see their views on aquaponics.  It was very pleasant to see that many of the people at the market preferred organic vegetables sold at the market over supermarket produce.  There is a growing interest in buying food from local organic suppliers rather than supermarkets as not only is this more ethical and environmentally friendly, it helps entrepreneurs’ businesses grow – not to mention the great quality of the veg!

Every single day was full of tasks that allowed me get an insight into a career in sustainable food production.

My work experience with Aquaponics was a truly enjoyable and informative experience that I would highly recommend for anyone interested in global issues, STEM or agriculture; or anyone who simply enjoys practical work whilst helping the world.

Links:  @smartgreensuk

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