Creating the taste of home

White eggplant is one of the plants Granger T. Simmons is growing in his smart garden.

Granger T. Simmons is a husband, a father of four boys and an entrepreneur. In 2018 he first started working for Ukipolis Oy in a project called Asukasluotsaus where one of the focuses was giving guidance to newcomers moving to the Vakka-Suomi region.

Attraction and retention became a core value of the project and it was quickly discovered that there were as many people leaving Uusikaupunki as were moving in. A questionnaire was conducted and it revealed that the accessibility of food was one of the big issues and a reason for people to move somewhere else instead of settling here in Vakka-Suomi.

The questionnaire sparked an idea that has now become Granger’s current project called, Food Culture & The Economy (RKPV). It’s all about the accessibility of foods from different cultures and making them a part of the local food supply.

As a chef, food has a special place in Granger’s heart. He understands immigrants who want to maintain their food culture and travel to Turku or even to Helsinki just so they could experience that familiar flavor.

With this project Granger hopes to make life a little bit easier by bringing the taste of home closer. No more long car drives every weekend or a lot of money spent on fuel.

– The point is to figure out what would be possible to provide for people. In this case vegetables, fruit and herbs that people are used to getting in their home countries. As a chef I have been able to recreate those familiar flavors from home, and have found seasonings and spices to use locally. With the results of this project, I also hope that we can work towards the reduction of importing immature fruit and vegetables, which has a major effect on the taste. We are trying to make it possible to have the products ripen on the vine instead of harvesting them too early, he explains.

– Someone even described the difference between Finnish fruit and vegetables and the ones in their home country as if someone had sucked all the flavor out of the Finnish fresh produce. That’s how big of a difference there can sometimes be.

To get the flavors right the products are going to be taste tested by people who long for the familiar flavors from their home.

– The taste testers are so important. Their role is to steer us in the right direction and tell us what they are missing, what we should grow and let us know if the flavors are what they are looking for. Only they can tell us what reminds them of home, Granger emphasizes.

At the moment the magic happens in an ordinary room filled with Plantui smart garden units. Plantui Oy is the main partner in the project which is funded by Leader Ravakka.

The plants get a monthly visit from a former Turku University student Dr. Martina Angeleri to make sure everything is growing just right. Granger ensures it has been amazing and enlightening to work on this project.

– Many years ago, through my company, I had the chance to meet the CEO and main investor of Plantui. I was blown away when they introduced to me their concept of light recipes. I got to experience the power of different kinds of lights first-hand when they let me taste dill and basil grown under two different lights in different units. The taste was completely different! he reveals.

Granger even got to participate in the development of an Equatorial light recipe created just for this project. The two other lights used in the project are Nordic and Mediterranean.

Granger hopes he could enlarge this project to farm-land and bigger temperature-controlled greenhouses.

– The goal is to find more partners and farmers who would like to take part in this, expand their range of customers and create themselves a new source of income. So far, we have been able to grow okra here using the Nordic light and it really thrived. On top of okra we’re growing for example tomatoes, white eggplant, Greek oregano, arugula and strawberries, he lists.

Originally Granger has a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and anthropology from Brown University in Rhode Island. In addition to being an entrepreneur, he works full-time as a Project Manager and Project Coordinator at Ukipolis Oy.

He also works at Vakka-Suomen Kansalaisopisto as an English teacher and a vocal coach, writes for different newspapers and teaches a choir class in the local high school.

– I dream of being a successful serial entrepreneur with multiple initiatives to help people all over the world. I hope to provide jobs, opportunities and inspire. My motto is: Don’t allow life to happen to you, but you happen to life, he concludes.

Granger suggests contacting Ukipolis or himself for any new ideas. He also recommends writing the vision down.

– Don’t be afraid of being the first or the only one to do something. Dream big and go for it. Knock on every door. Find the keys or take the hinges off the door if you have to, he encourages.

Jasmin Jussila

Granger has been able to grow tomatoes under three different lights. They sure do taste completely different from each other!

Maailman makuja Uudestakaupungista

Granger T. Simmons on puoliso, neljän pojan isä ja yrittäjä. Vuonna 2018 hän alkoi työskennellä Ukipolis Oy:ssä asukasluotsaus-hankkeen parissa. Asukkaille tehty kysely paljasti ruoan saatavuuden olevan ongelma, jonka vuoksi ihmiset muuttivat isommille paikkakunnille.

Tästä kyselystä sai alkunsa Grangerin nykyinen projekti: Ruokakulttuurin pitovoima. Tämän hankkeen tavoitteena on mahdollistaa erilaisille kulttuureille tyypillisten ruoka-aineiden saanti Uudestakaupungista.

Granger yrittää selvittää millaisia maahanmuuttajia kodista muistuttavia vihanneksia, hedelmiä tai yrttejä olisi mahdollista kasvattaa lähiruokana Varsinais-Suomessa.

– Toivon myös, että tämän projektin avulla onnistuisimme vähentämään raakojen hedelmien ja vihannesten maahantuontia, hän kertoo. Jotta maut saataisiin kohdalleen, projektissa on mukana myös koemaistajia.

– Heidän tehtävänsä on ohjata meitä oikeaan suuntaan. Vain he tietävät, mitkä maut muistuttavat kodista, Granger painottaa.

Hankkeen yhteistyökumppanina toimii Plantui Oy. Turun Yliopistosta valmistunut tri Martina Angeleri käy joka kuukausi tarkistamassa kasvien voinnin ja varmistamassa, että niiden kasvuolosuhteet ovat kohdallaan.

Granger pääsi aiemmin yrityksensä kautta tapaamaan muun muassa Plantuin toimitusjohtajaa. Nyt hän on osallistunut projektissa käytetyn päiväntasaajan valoreseptin luomiseen.

– Sama kasvi kasvatettuna eri valoilla tuottaa täysin erilaiset maut, hän selittää.

Granger toivoo pystyvänsä laajentamaan projektin maatiloille sekä isompiin kasvihuoneisiin.

– Tavoitteena on löytää maanviljelijöitä, jotka olisivat kiinnostuneita osallistumaan sekä löytämään uuden asiakaskunnan ja tulonlähteen, hän suunnittelee.

Granger suosittelee ottamaan yhteyttä joko häneen tai Ukipolikseen mikäli mielessä on idea, jonka haluaisi päästä toteuttamaan. Hän suosittelee myös vision kirjoittamista ylös.

– Älä pelkää olevasi ensimmäinen tai ainut. Unelmoi isosti ja anna palaa, hän kannustaa.

Jasmin Jussila