Growing leafy greens and fish indoors year-round is a fabulous solution to the lack of fresh food in many urban centres.
Mississauga is a large suburban city on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada. Out of its 750,000 residents, an estimated 182,000 people live below the poverty line, which means that they rely on the food bank to make ends meet. Due to urban sprawl, however, it has become increasingly difficult for the Mississauga Food Bank to source fresh food for its customers. While the area was once rich in farmland, most of that has been plowed under for condo towers and shopping malls.
The Food Bank came up with a creative solution — to build an aquaponics farm that can provide both fresh produce and fish to hungry residents. Assisted and trained by the University of Wisconsin’s Aquaponics program, the Mississauga Food Bank launched its farm officially this week, to much fanfare.
Aquaponics is the combination of two forms of agriculture: hydroponics, which is growing food without soil, and aquaculture, which is fish-farming. In an aquaponic system, fish swim in a tank, eating and releasing waste to create nutrient-rich water that feeds plants growing in a soil-less environment, held above water. In return, the plants’ roots clean the water, so that the entire system is closed-loop. The amount of water required for production is minimal because it cycles continuously, unlike traditional agriculture that requires the constant addition of water because it drains away into soil.
This aquaponics farm hopes to harvest 2,000 heads of leafy greens and 215 pounds of tilapia (enough for 645 servings) a year, and production will be ongoing, all year round—a boon for a country with a short growing season.
As executive director Chris Hatch said in an explanatory video earlier this year, ‘Aquaponics 101,’ this project has “huge potential for feeding people healthily all year round.”
Mississauga Food Bank is the first food bank in Canada to implement such a system, although this form of urban farming is already used in the United States. Mississauga hopes to be a model that other Canadian food banks can copy, as well as an educational center for local children to learn about sustainable food production.