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Entrepreneur’s garden shed farm mushrooms turned into thriving business

THE only way is up for one of Northern Ireland’s newest vertical farmers after winning an innovation award.

hat started as a home hobby for Belfast man Mark Sutherland two years ago has mushroomed into a profitable farm, specializing in nutritious microgreens.

His sustainable business Green Shed Organic is set to grow even further after he picked up a £5,000 grant with an Innovate UK young innovator award.

Mark was one of 62 winners aged 18 to 30 who submitted ideas to change the world. As well as a cash injection for his business from him, the 30-year-old, who was the only winner from Northern Ireland, had one-on-one coaching.

The awards recognize young people with great ideas who have the potential to become entrepreneurs and innovation leaders.

Mark started out growing microgreens in a shed in his garden, but he’s in the process of moving to new premises.

He produces year-round yields of nutritious microgreens that he sells to restaurants and a number of households.

Now that he’s moving to a new location, he hopes to expand his businesses and make his produce more affordable.

Mark said: “I wanted to grow vegetables in my garden, but it was September and the wrong time of the year.

“That’s when I discovered vertical farming, which is a solution to climatic changes in weather as the plants are grown indoors.

“Because they are grown vertically, you don’t need a lot of space, so I built myself a shed in the garden, bought my first LED light and started to grow microgreens at home in 2018.

“I started to really study vertical farming and then decided to leave my job in banking to get the horticultural knowledge.

“I have just completed a two-year course at Greenmount Agricultural College.”

Mark is in the process of preparing his new premises at Blackstaff in Belfast, where he will be able to increase the number of crops he grows.

“Microgreens are nutritiously dense because they are picked when the first two leaves appear on the plant,” I have explained.

“I have been selling them to families in south Belfast and some restaurants.

“At the moment, they are a luxury ingredient used by high-end restaurants because they are quite expensive to grow. They are also extremely perishable.

“My aim is to grow quality foods while reducing the impact on the environment, but I want to also make them accessible to everyone, so I have ideas for a food range.”

Mark plans to grow leafy microgreens, including broccoli, kale, cress and spinach.

If everything works out, his new range could be available as early as next month.

He has a few ideas for interesting dishes, but he is keeping them under wraps until then.

The entrepreneur said winning the innovation award had been transformational.

“I’m so grateful for it. The young innovators program really champions what others may see as mad,” he added.

“Their Ideas Mean Business campaign offers such incredible support and will help you get your business going a lot quicker. I would urge anyone thinking of setting up a business to use it.”

According to research, half of young people in the UK think their age is a barrier to business success.

Innovate UK hopes to change this impression with the Ideas Mean Business drive. CEO Indro Mukerjee said: “The innovation potential of this young age group is incredible. It’s a cohort that promises to bring energy, entrepreneurial flair and fresh perspectives to today’s big challenges.

“Our young innovators are also relatable role models, inspiring and showing the path to others as they create economic and societal benefits through innovation, so that we can all see a fairer, more resilient and more productive society”.

To learn more about Innovate UK, visit www.ktn-uk.org/programme/young-innovators. Find Mark’s Green Shed Organic on Facebook and Instagram

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