FRESH LEAFY GREENS NOW AVAILABLE YEAR-ROUND FOR REGINA FOOD BANK CLIENTS
MARCH 13, 2017
“There’s a continuous food supply that goes through here so we’re not tied to the summer season,” said Food Bank CEO Steve Compton. He was speaking with the Prairie Messenger in what was a storage shed and is now called the Four Seasons Agriculture Centre.
It was minus 15 Celsius on March 8, but warm and humid inside the well-insulated hard shell building that resembles a circus tent. Compton explained that the building was onsite when the Food Bank moved to their present location and had been used as a non-food storage facility, and for some training programs.
Inside there are 48 “growing towers,” each containing 70 growing pods peeking out the side of a circular multi-tiered structure. “An irrigation system is connected to each tower. “Plants are watered for one minute every day, so it’s very efficient,” said Compton. “The centre of each tower is a compost, with worms that convert food scraps into nutrients, so it is self-sustaining.”
Most spaces are growing various types of lettuce, but Compton said they have successfully grown and harvested beans and are still experimenting with other vegetables. Radishes, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli are currently being grown, as well as some herbs not usually seen in North American diets. “We are seeing a change in what clients are requesting with a more diversified population,” Compton continues. The plants are harvested about every five weeks. Close records are kept to determine the amount of food that can be grown but it’s still too early to estimate how much food the system is capable of producing.
We are standing in an empty space that Compton says will soon contain a series of raised garden platforms handling deeper rooted vegetables like potatoes, beets and corn.
The greenhouse was established for two reasons: “We were getting requests for culturally sensitive foods and spices, and from people with allergies. It allows us to supplement what is needed, and we can provide training and education for people to grow food in their apartment, community centres and community schools,” Compton says. “You take ownership of that food security continuum beyond the charitable offering.” The interest in the project has been incredible, he says.
Besides food bank clients, there is also an outreach program with different community partners. Individuals or groups can claim one or more towers to plant and tend their own produce and there is expert help and advice available.
Federated Co-op Community Services provided the food bank with a $100,000 grant. The funds were used to set up the natural gas heating system, special lights to replicate some elements of sunlight, and the irrigation system. Compton says natural light panels will eventually be installed.