VERTICAL FARMING: Surrey ‘food bank 2.0’ will grow on you

SFU Surrey alumni’s farming idea germinates on food bank depot wall

Two living walls

The Surrey Food Bank is getting a little more high tech – with farming, that is.

Two “living walls,” also known as vertical farming towers, are being installed  at the food bank’s Cloverdale depot. They are expected to help feed up to 80 families there every two weeks.

“The technology is amazing,” said Feezah Jaffer, the food bank’s associate executive director. “No soil, no weeding, and we have dedicated volunteers who will come a couple times a week to check water levels, check nutrient levels, make sure the plants are growing properly, everything like that. It’s food bank 2.0.”

Jaffer said while another food bank in Mississauga is doing a project with aquaponics, Surrey’s is hydroponic.

“So we’re kind of at the forefront, and that was really important to us,” she added. “You look at urban farming, you look at rooftop gardens, now growing living walls, it’s amazing what technology can do now.”

Jaffer hopes this is the first of many of the farming towers for the food bank.

“If it works, which fingers crossed it will, we really want to introduce it to our other depots,” she said. “The whole reason we did it and why we were so interested in it is because fresh produce is so hard to get. Especially with the weather and difficulties of the growing season, we get a lot of root vegetables from our farm partners, so potatoes, carrots, onions, but we don’t get a lot of the fresh leafy greens.”

Installation began last week at the Zion Lutheran Church and produce has already been planted.

The first harvest – which will include leafy greens like lettuce, kale, endive, bok choy and swiss chard – will likely be ready in mid-April.

The idea came from a former SFU Surrey student, Ethan O’Brien (pictured). His company, Living Garden Foods, sells, installs and provides training for the towers.

“In my last year at SFU I was studying sustainable community development and we were challenged in that class to go out to a local organization and see if we could help them become more sustainable in some way,” he explained.

“I thought, why don’t we talk to some food banks to see if we could help them become environmentally and financially sustainable by growing their own food.”

The food bank was on board, and it landed a roughly $6,000 grant from Vancity Community Partnership program.

O’Brien said it isn’t known yet just how much food the two living walls will produce, but guessed it would be several hundred pounds a year.

“Anywhere from 300 to 800 pounds in a year,” he said. “The growing system comes with a 10-year warranty so it should grow food for the next decade.”

Partnering in the project’s installation is Langley-based Active Sprouts Foundation – of which O’Brien is a director – which aims to combat childhood obesity and promote healthier more active lifestyles.

Active Sprouts founder Blake Venechuk (who owns Langley’s Submission Spin Club) was on-site helping with installation of the walls in Surrey last Monday, and said the organization is also partnering with the Langley Food Bank on a similar project.

School programs are also in the works, added Venechuk, which would incorporate lessons on how to grow seedlings, how to install them in the vertical towers, and more, to get kids excited and interested in agricultural.

It’s all about looking to the future of farming technologies, explained Venechuk, and “what that can look like to people in our generation and younger, and how they’re going to associate with it.

“Although kids like to dig into the dirt, they’ll probably see more things like this pop up.”

Visit livinggardenfoods.com for more information on the vertical walls.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

 

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