On the up · 13 July 2016

Rocket Gardens: The flourishing business making growing fresh food easy

Rocket Gardens
The company offers organic fruit, veg and herb plant boxes
Taking the challenges of rural broadband in his stride, Rocket Gardens founder Mike Kitchen is on a mission to make growing food at home as easy as possible. Business Advice hears how he has grown his business by letting customers camp on his farm.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

Im Mike Kitchen, founder of Rocket Gardens. We give everyone a go at growing their own food by delivering boxes of baby plants ready to grow.

Were based in Cornwall, which has a brilliant climate for growing vegetables it’s warm enough that we don’t have to burn loads of oil to heat polytunnels when were growing plants.

(2) How long have you been around for?

About a decade. The business started when I decided I wanted to take some time off to spend with my young children. Id been working offshore so had bit of a financial buffer, and I had always wanted to be a farmer I knew how much chemicals go into food, and thought I really wanted to grow my own stuff.

(3) How do you make money?

We sell to consumers through our website, and have also worked with Ocado and Not on the High Street in the past. As were a rural operation, ecommerce is vital to the business.

We didnt really know what our market was until we tested it, but we soon found that it was really all over the UK, right up to the north of Scotland. A relatively high per cent of our customers are in London and the home counties, but our customers are quite spread out.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Our product is old-school in a way, even though the marketing is very modern. I want to help people reconnect a little bit with nature by growing plants and picking what they need, rather than buying a whole punnet of something and throwing it away.

We also allow people to camp on our fields as an additional revenue stream and a bit of a marketing tool. When I was growing up in Cornwall, wed see a farmer and hed let us use a corner of his field to camp, so I wanted to do something similar. There’s eco-friendly running water and showers, but no internet people just go to the beach and come back and cook. Anyone who signs up to our year-round Constant Garden? boxes can come and stay for a week, it’s a great way to meet our customers.

Rocket Gardens
Rocket Gardens founder Mike Kitchen
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

There are lots of cauliflowers and cabbages grown in this part of the world, so I looked at how professional farms were selling plants that were already growing and adapted that system for home growers. We started renting Victorian greenhouses over a couple of acres now we have 150.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Weve worked with thousands of schools, and the RHS use our garden as part of their school gardening project. Our boxes work really well because we can get teachers with no knowledge whatsoever growing, and children can grow things for their own Christmas dinners hopefully convincing their parents to start growing too. Farming has always been so important to our history, I want it to continue to be so.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

We waited for two or three years to get superfast broadband, something you really need as a rural business to be able to scale and use cloud-based tools and more modern technology. Now we have it, Im not confident it’s fast enough. And there’s always the worry things like combine harvesters knocking down phone lines, which a business owner based in a city wouldnt necessarily be aware of. At some point well have to pay for our own dedicated line, but were not at that stage yet.

(8) In five years? time, I will be?


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics as well as running a tutoring company.

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