Category Archives: growing

What do GROWers bring to a Good Food Nation?

This blog was published in The Geographer, the newsletter of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society Summer 2018

The Scottish government’s Good Food Nation bill came up briefly in the parliamentary debate on 25 January, with an update on its progress towards the government’s ambitions on Good Food. These are to build a statutory framework to join up the government’s approach to food and to consider steps to improve the effectiveness of the food and drink supply in Scotland. Progress turns out to be another consultation later this year in 2018. What should we all expect?

What does a Good Food Nation mean?
According to Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, it means: We want to enhance the national food policy with the vision of Scotland becoming a good food nation, where people from every walk of life take pride, pleasure and benefit from the food that they buy, serve and eat day by day. 29 June 2016.

It should mean more than this however. A Good Food Nation should be able to provide easy access to all its people to healthy and sustaining food. That food should be produced sustainably. A Good Food Nation is also a nation where people grow their own food as individuals and communities and where people can access locally grown food easily and regularly.

The sustainable production of food and access to healthy and sustaining food is key to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals . Scotland was one of the first countries to sign up to in 2015. Scotland is justifiably proud of its natural environment and its burgeoning Food and Drink sector. Yet at the same time, it is still widely seen, and labelled, as the unhealthy nation of Europe. Developing a coherent approach to food will be key for the Scottish Government.

The GROW Observatory is at the forefront of two approaches that will be invaluable to progress here:
1. Enabling more people right across Scotland and Europe to grow and access local food, grown sustainably
2. Building healthier soils so that sustainable food production and a heathy environment is a given for future generations
GROW is an 18 partner strong consortium, led by Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art at the University of Dundee and working with research institutions, NGOs, design and technology companies. On the ground, we work with local communities in growing networks from across Europe. Together, we learn about food growing and soil management through online courses and large scale growing and soil experiments. Together, we gather data on sustainable growing techniques, on soil management approaches, on growing the best crops for local conditions and on soil parameters used to validate and strengthen climate change models. GROW is distributing 15,000 soil sensing kits across 9 GROW Places in Europe, to build the biggest citizen generated database on soil properties. These GROW Places occur from Scotland to Greece, Ireland to Sweden. With the data and knowledge we build from these, people are able to grow more food sustainably, identify and plant crops suited to their locality and soil types, build healthier soils and learn how to adapt growing, soil and land management activities to changing climate.

With citizens and data, GROW is playing its part in improving the coherence of food and development policy in Europe, in supporting and enabling local communities to grow their own food and reduce food miles, providing physical activity and building social cohesion through growing. By making the links between local communities, supporting locally adapted sustainable food production methods and by gathering data to strengthen scientific models on climate change and soil health, there is a lot that the citizens involved can offer a Good Food Nation. All of this, taken together, helps governments across Europe meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Find out how to join in at


GROWing ambitions: January 2017

At the end of January 2017, I have some great growing plans. And a plan to produce a monthly blog on my growing escapades…..

In December, I started working at the GROW Observatory and am now pursuing some great ambitions to get people growing food across Europe over the next 3 years. With our first campaign due for launch in May, we’re aiming to engage growers in some soil and growing experiments, testing what we can achieve together with soils sensors, home made soil kits and growing advice.

And at home, for Christmas this year, I got a greenhouse. Which is a neat way for me to combine both home and work. Very exciting times. A new greenhouse (new to me anyway) means I’ll be able to extend my usually short growing season and maybe get some bigger crops into the bargain. The growing season at home usually starts in May and ends in September and in that time, my crops need to germinate, grow, flower and fruit. Up to now, they’ve not always made it in time.

So what have we done in January? Progress so far has been preparing the ground for the greenhouse to sit on….. greenhouse-base

The next stage will be erecting the greenhouse itself. And then organising my planting space. Of course I already have plans and some seed……
Tomatoes constitute my main plan, alongside starting off beans and sweet peas early enough that they have a long enough season to produce pods and flowers. Pre – greenhouse I have never managed to produce flowers or pods until September when they have 4 short weeks before they slow down and then get frostbitten.
So in my seed tin so far I have:
Tomato Yellow Pear
Cucumber Crystal Lemon
French bean Cosse Violet sans fils
Borlotti Lingua di Fuoco

What else should I plant? I’m browsing seed catalogues and trying not to get carried away. I have my eye on a seed mix of edible flowers, a win win for me, pollinating insects and the salad bowl. And then I’m also looking for early ripening tomatoes. And of course, we’ll want to grow courgettes again. Never had much luck with them. Salad mixes are also always a good idea too – they grow quickly, although not always quickly enough to beat the slugs, and having a mixture looks good in the ground and on the plate. I’m also keen to try rocket again and this year may be the year I manage to grow beetroots bigger than golf balls.
Next post: February: will the greenhouse be erected?

GROW Observatory: citizen science in action


I have just been appointed the new Programme Director of the GROW Observatory (GROW) and I am delighted to be working with such an exciting project. The GROW Observatory, an EU Horizon 2020 project, is coordinated from Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design at University of Dundee. Working with 18 partner organisations from 10 countries across the Europe, the project is an innovative approach to creating a community of citizen growers, gardeners, small scale farmers, scientists and policy makers, all working together to learn from each other, provide growing and policy advice and contribute data on local soil conditions, to help validate climate change models generated by satellite.

The project vision is to support and build smart and sustainable custodianship of the land and soil across Europe and to provide an answer to the long standing challenge for space science, which is the need to validate climate change models with soil moisture detection on the ground. These data and this knowledge will in turn also be used to inform policy decisions on land use, soil management and climate change.

GROW will empower citizen growers, gardeners and small scale farmers to  understand better their environment and their impact on land and soil and to use that knowledge to address land degradation and habitat loss and fragmentation. To achieve this, GROW will deploy low cost sensing technology to gather data on key soil variables, collated via mobile phones and tablets, and large scale, world leading technology, including satellites. Growers will be empowered and encouraged to join a Europe wide network through the GROW advice service, that they will help to build by producing data and information on growing and soil management.


GROW is a wide ranging and varied partnership that is working with digital communities, environmental scientists, growers, gardeners and citizens interested in the environment.

You can help the partnership take its first steps by filling in our online Growers survey:

Find out more here: and on twitter @growobservatory