CAN (ON): Scarborough agency out to prove that indoor farming can help reduce food bank use

In a warehouse space near Highway 401, shelves of kale and other leafy greens stand above tilapia swimming in a 100-gallon tank. This is part of how one agency is addressing one of Scarborough’s biggest problems: food insecurity.

For two months, the Centre for Immigrant and Community Services (CICS) has run the small aquaponic setup as an experiment jointly planned with Humber College. “Once they get to a certain size, it’s fillet time,” providing an occasional source of protein, adds Brian Joyce, the agency’s community services, facilities, and operations manager.

The Scarborough-based CICS was forced to restrict its food bank, which served 40 families before the pandemic, to 200 families this year. Like many other food bank operators, it hit a financial wall as grocery prices rose while donations fell.

CICS continues to support its families, but a raised-bed garden outside the Midland Avenue building has given 28 families a way to grow their own produce. The garden is beside a greenhouse, with space open to other agencies and the public, that nurtures seedlings and further extends the growing season.

The agency also hosts gardening workshops and distributes recipes, all in hopes some families can rely on the food bank less. “We’re never going to solve the problem right now, but we can reduce it,” Joyce said. Ten more vertical units, he mused, would allow CICS to grow a variety of vegetables all year and perhaps raise some rainbow trout.

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