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Urban Agriculture

Hydrogen

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There is pretty much "urban" everything else, so why not more urban agriculture? Bring the fresh produce on.
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Sprout business shooting up
Shop starts farm downtown as more people snap up green goodness

Apr 08, 2008 04:30 AM
CATHERINE PORTER
ENVIRONMENT REPORTER

A block south of the flashing lights of Honest Ed's, there is an old church, a sprawling brick high school, and a farm. That's right, a farm.

A 275-square-metre farm, to be exact, tucked in the back of the basement of 720 Bathurst St. Inside it smells like an earthy spring day and racks of what looks like grass are growing under the glare of fluorescent tubes. On closer inspection though, you'll see it isn't grass but the tender shoots of alfalfa, broccoli and radish.

This is Toronto Sprouts, a small operation that is fighting the exodus of farmers fleeing the city and instead has set up shop right in the centre of it.

On top of selling at health stores and farmers' markets and selling to restaurants and juice bars (including Booster Juice and Jugo Juice) the company just hit retail pay dirt – a deal with Loblaws. They are now selling their sprouts at two of the chain's stores (in Etobicoke on The East Mall and on Yonge north of Lawrence) and are expecting to expand to a dozen more soon.

"We expect our business to more than double," says company owner Marie Larsson, snapping at alfalfa sprouts and snacking on them.

Until recently, sprouts were the exclusive purview of health food and raw food types. But riding the wave of the local food movement, they're seeing their customer base expand. And customers can't get much more local than this, short of growing food in their own back yard.

While most fresh fruit and vegetables take months to grow, sprouts need less than two weeks. They are the baby shoots of adult plants – so the five-centimetre sunflower shoot Larsson snaps off to nibble on would stretch 60 centimetres if left to grow all summer. That's what makes them so healthy, she says.

"It's like rocket fuel," Larsson says, pointing to a tray of green wheat grass. "Four ounces of that will cover the average-built man's protein needs for a day."

While some sprouts grow on soil, others grow hydroponically – in cylindrical tanks laid on their sides, so they can spin regularly – ensuring that the heat generated by their growth doesn't melt them.

Larsson's plan is to increase the number of hydroponic tanks in the space, and find a new spot for all of her earth-growing sprouts. It won't just be good for her business. It will be good for humankind, she says.

"Good food translates into good human beings," says Larrson, smiling. "We need more of them in this world."


AGRICULTURE IN URBAN AREAS

Urban farms are rare, but they don't have to stay that way.

"There is more arable land in the City of Toronto than in Newfoundland," says Debbie Field of FoodShare. The non-profit agency is dedicated to food and hunger issues. One of its initiatives is Sunshine Garden, a 650-square-metre certified organic operation on the grounds of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on Queen St. where CAMH participants grow vegetables and herbs.

Its produce is included in the thousands of boxes that Good Food Box delivers in the city each month ($12 to $32).

Some notable urban farms:

• Central Experimental Farm: a 400-hectare National Historic Site in Ottawa.

• Rochester Vineyard: 1-hectare farm in Rochester, N.Y., produces more than 4,000 kilograms of fruit and vegetables each year.

• Growing Homes: Charity trains low-income people at two farms one on Chicago's South Side – and one in Marseilles, Ill.
 

afransen

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It'll never be more than a niche. This does remind me, however, of the guy who was growing lettuce in a Halifax warehouse (on CBC's Dragons' Den) for restaurants, etc. You can certainly get better quality oftentimes when something is grown locally in the winter than shipped from California. But, if this is displacing a farm 100 or even 500 km away, I am willing to bet that the more efficient rural operation is probably better for the environment.
 

Prometheus The Supremo

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every pot smoker in town is doing their part supporting urban agriculture. :p
 

TrickyRicky

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Farm skyscrapers? Urban Toronto can only dream. Now what crop could yield a high enough annual return to justify the square footage...well, other than the one Prometheus mentioned!
 

afransen

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Recent prices for corn, etc. indicate otherwise. Wineries are quite profitable, and soft fruit can be at times too.
 

shakenbake

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Some times these methods of urban agriculture are best not for a profit, but for the food security of a community. Toronto has many urban garden projects, (such as The Stop) that help eleviate poverty. This is a postive thing, not just for pot smokers!
 

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