Food banks growing own goods as donations decline
Published Monday, February 20, 2017 10:06PM EST
Food banks are looking to alternative solutions to help augment declining fresh produce donations.
“We have no farms in Mississauga, so unlike my counterparts in other areas of Ontario, who have more fresh than they can handle, we don’t get enough fresh here,” explained Mississauga Food Bank’s Executive Director Chris Hatch to CTV News Channel.
Hatch’s Mississauga distribution centre, which supplies 52 area food banks and feeds over 200,000 people a year, recently launched AquaGrow Farms to help supplement the 300 tons of fresh produce they dish out and ensure those in need aren’t only eating processed foods.
Using a combination of fish farming and soilless agriculture they’re now growing lettuce and tilapia using an aquaponics laboratory.
The waste from the fish tanks is filtered and used to fertilize the lettuce, which in turn cleans the water and gets sent back into the fish tanks.
The lettuce takes four weeks to go from seed to table, while the fish takes six months to reach maturity.
"Every week we harvest 36 heads of lettuce and that goes out to our member agencies all across Mississauga. We're estimating in a year we can feed about 11,000 servings of lettuce so that's pretty significant for such a small setup,” Hatch told The Canadian Press.
Thanks to advances in technology other food banks in similar predicaments have also looked at alternative farming solutions to help with the declining donations.
For example, in Regina, Sask., a food bank built a year-round green house and in Surrey, B.C., several food banks have started using vertical farms.
“LED lighting has really increased in efficiency lately so it makes it a lot more economical for people to grow indoors,” said owner of Living Garden Foods Ethan O’Brien.
However, as Hatch explained: "It's not a complete solution but it's certainly in the right direction and it shows the community we're thinking creatively about how to solve this problem."
They’ve already received positive feedback from the community.
“We've been getting some feedback from clients who have received this lettuce and they have been very happy and feel very fortunate to have received this fresh lettuce especially when it's dark and grey outside," said Hatch.
“If you are exposed to high quality food, despite your high level of vulnerability, economically speaking, then it gives you a chance, it gives you hope," explained food distribution and policy expert Dr. Sylvain Charlebois.
Mississauga Food Bank now has plans to expand their aquaponics farm.
With files from CTV’s Peter Akman and The Canadian Press