Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Food Banks Growing Own Food - Even Farming Fish - as Donations Decline

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Food Banks Growing Own Food - Even Farming Fish - as Donations Decline

Article excerpt

Food banks get into growing as donations decline

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TORONTO - In a bid to make up for a shortfall of high-quality nutritious food, some Canadian food banks are growing their own produce -- and even farming fish.

The Mississauga Food Bank recently launched AquaGrow Farms, where tilapia is being raised in tanks and lettuce is raised through hydroponics, or without soil.

Executive director Christopher Hatch said the Ontario food bank is the first in Canada to be producing its own fish.

"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," said Hatch.

There were just under 90,000 visits to food banks last year in Mississauga, Canada's sixth largest city with a population of about 720,000.

Donations of fresh food have been declining and higher food costs make it tougher to stretch donated cash.

"People tend to want to give us a can of soup and box of Kraft Dinner, which is fine, but we're trying to also source higher-quality nutritional value food," said Hatch.

A couple of years ago he began exploring aquaponics -- which combines aquaculture, or fish farming, with hydroponics -- and thought it could be a viable solution to raise nutritious food year-round.

It takes about six months for tilapia fingerlings to reach about a kilogram in size, at which point they'll be sent off-site for processing and packaging. The first harvest is expected at the end of March.

The fish are the vegetable farmers, in a sense, as their waste, which is converted to nitrate, fertilizes the plants, says farm supervisor Colin Cotton. He's experimenting with growing buttercrunch and romaine lettuce.

"From seed to salad is about 60 days at the moment and we're trying to cut that down to about 45 days," he said.

"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. …

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