by Amber

Canada’s 1st Aquaponic Food Bank Farm

Providing healthy foods isn’t easy for food banks, especially in communities with a large disadvantaged population. The aquaponic food bank farm offers these non-profits a solution to the dilemma of an inadequate supply of fresh foods. Not just because of its combination of meat and vegetable harvests, the system is also highly sustainable. So, it’s not surprising that the first aquaponic farm at a Canadian food bank launched last week.

While a number of aquaponic food bank farms have sprouted up in the US in recent years, it hasn’t spread into Canada until now. Of course, the Mississauga Food Bank’s new renewable source of fresh food didn’t happen overnight. This Greater Toronto Area non-profit has been working on getting this project going for 3 years.

It began with shrinking donations of fresh produce. On a quest for the answer to providing food bank clients with a continuous balanced diet, the idea of growing their own took root. A sustainable food production system would allow them to stop being so dependent on donations. Feeding the hungry calls for a sustainable community service. After all, supplying fresh, healthy food is a big order to fill from inside a food desert in a community where over 25% of the residents’ income is below poverty. Mississauga, Ontario has a population of 750,000, and about 182,000 of them need food assistance.

Just like anyone else, the next step is figuring out what system will provide you with what you need. And then… how does it work? How do we make sure that we don’t have crop failure? How do we keep our fish healthy? These and many more questions aren’t always easy to find good answers for. Aquaponics is symbiotic, but complex. Every grow light and growing system brand is the best. Which, naturally, leaves you wondering which is best for you. So, the food bank turned to the same knowledge source that people from 101 countries do. They contacted Nelson and Pade in Wisconsin.

Mississauga Food Bank Aquaponic Farm

The first crops of lettuce already growing at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
(Courtesy of Nelson and Pade)

Diving into aquaponic farming is nothing like sticking a few seeds in soil. Someone had to learn the ropes, and be responsible for day to day management of the system and its inhabitants. So, in-house farmer Colin Cotton made the trip to Wisconsin for training and education through a University of Wisconsin program.

After learning what you need, and how to use it, the next hurdle is covering the cost of the system and stocking it. For the Mississauga Food Bank, the generosity of the Ontario Trillium Foundation not only provided funding for the equipment, but also 2 years’ operating costs.

The actual construction of AquaGrow Farms began a few months ago in August. Rebecca Nelson from Nelson and Pade helped with building the system, and attended the launch event too. They love seeing their aquaponic farm systems in action feeding people.

Based on the sketchy information gleaned from news sources and the Nelson and Pade website, it looks like the Mississauga Food Bank is equipped with a Home Garden Clear Flow Aquaponic System with 3 growing beds and 2 100-gallon fish tanks. The raft beds can produce up to 40 heads of lettuce each week, which is the food bank’s harvest goal. They estimate that they’ll be able to raise 645 servings a fish a year. That might not sound like a lot, but that’s what it takes to fertilize 10,000 servings of greens in the same time frame.

The community got the opportunity to check out the first aquaponic food bank farm in Canada during the ribbon cutting event on November 23rd. Mississauga Food Bank is very excited about growing fresh lettuce and fish for their clients. They’re holding interactive educational tours the 3rd Wednesday of every month. Education is a big part of this addition to the charity. And while they’re producing food for their clients, they want to spread awareness of the true scope of healthy food shortages too.

While they’re starting out small, Mississauga Food Bank has become a national leader in their industry. They hope other food banks will be inspired to follow suit. With fresh foods being missing from the diets of the disadvantaged everywhere, it’s not likely they’ll be the only aquaponic food bank farm in Canada for long. There’s an open invitation for schools and other organizations to schedule a private tour on the AquaGrow Farms webpage.

Source: CBC News

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.