DesBrisay Dines

DesBrisay Dines: Growing Futures

“The most frightening words we hear at the mayor’s office,” Jim Watson told the crowd at the Innovation Centre on April 6, “is ‘Karen Secord is on line one.’”

That got a laugh. Anyone who knows Karen Secord, manager of The Parkdale Food Centre, knows she is a woman of many ideas and much energy, and delights in finding the right people to carry out those ideas.

The crowd was there to celebrate the community building project called Growing Futures, launched in 2015. And to learn about its second phase, launched last week. The concept for Growing Futures was simple. As Secord explained, it was “to create and sell a platform that teaches kids to grow fresh vegetables using innovative technology, and matches them with local businesses, who provide mentorship and purchase their harvests at market prices.”

“Today we are standing amid dozens and dozens of social innovators,” she continued, looking to the hundred or so kids seated behind her. These are elementary students involved with Growing Futures in a variety of ways: as growers and harvesters of healthy food, but also as entrepreneurs, marketers and cooks.

Charts and graphs for growing basil! An example of the how the kids are involved in the project
Charts and graphs for growing basil! An example of the how the kids are involved in the project

The ‘innovative technology’ Secord refers to is the Garden Tower – a vertical hydroponic vegetable-growing structure (prettier than it sounds), 10 of which have already been placed in schools, a food bank, a recreation centre, and a garden wall installed at the Parkdale Food Centre. Phase two aims to get 150 towers (yes, this is the year for that number!) into the broader community — into more schools, community centres, businesses and public spaces. Rather than gathering around the water cooler for a chat, we’ll be gathering around a tower of kale and basil. At least we will if Secord and her impressive team have anything to do with it.

Replacing the water cooler — the Garden Tower, a vertical hydroponic, vegetable-growing structure
Replacing the water cooler — the Garden Tower, a vertical hydroponic, vegetable-growing structure

Connaught Public School has started a business called ‘Greenalicious’ selling gourmet greens in 50 gram bags for $4, a sum the students figured out over business brainstorming sessions with their sponsor, Jennifer Heagle of Red Apron. Ms Richardson’s Grade 4/5 class at Connaught grows herbs for their business partner Wentsi Yeung, owner of Culture Kombucha. Fisher/Summit school, with help from Thyme & Again, grows mostly basil. They’ve been taught how to make (and cost out) pesto, which they jar, label and sell back to Thyme & Again. Cambridge Public School, supported by Seed to Sausage, grows kale in their tower.

Pesto made from the plants grown in the Garden Towers. The children's pesto is placed in jars, labelled, and sold back to Thyme & Again
Pesto made from the plants grown in the Garden Towers. The children’s pesto is placed in jars, labelled, and sold back to Thyme & Again

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson was clearly so inspired (or frightened of Karen Secord?) he committed to buying five towers for City Hall. One hundred and forty-five to go.

You can learn more about the initiative, its business model and founding partners here.