AquaGrow Farms Update: An Interview with Colin Cotton
We sat down with Colin, Aquaponics Farm Supervisor, to find out how things are going at AquaGrow Farms!
1. Overall, how are things going at AquaGrow Farms so far?
Everything has been great! We’ve had such an awesome response from our volunteers and visitors to the food bank about the project. It seems to really drive home the need for fresh produce in Mississauga and the creative solutions required to meet that need.
In terms of the day-to-day farm operations, we’ve stocked both our tanks with fish and have begun harvesting our greens. The lettuce is growing like crazy! Some of the leaves are over 5 inches across and those ones aren’t even ready to be harvested yet. Visitors have commented that our raft tanks now look like forests. It may be cold and grey outside at the moment, but it’s great to know that we’re filling up bowls of greens across the city!
The fish have (for the most part) been behaving themselves and eating very well. We expect to harvest the first batch towards the end of March.
2. What have you learned since we started this project?
It’s amazing what the farm can teach you every day. As soon as you’re comfortable with how everything works, a new situation is brought up and leads to many more learning opportunities. It’s always changing, but that’s what keeps things fun.
We’ve learned a lot about fish behaviour. For example, they actually prefer to be more tightly packed in a tank because that reduces territorial behaviour. Now that we’re fully established, our next batches of fish will be doubled to minimize fighting and the occasional splashing that falsely sets off our flood alarm at early hours in the morning.
With the leafy greens, we’ve learned a lot about how they grow. Light, water, and nutrients are the basic necessities for growth, but each of those components can go super in depth. We’re constantly looking at each of these factors to see what will keep the greens happiest, healthiest, and growing as big as possible! And we’ve learned a little about lettuce identification as there was a seed that grew into a different kind of lettuce than the rest – we suspect it’s Romaine!
3. What are you personally most excited about for AquaGrow Farms?
I’m always excited about harvesting our greens. It’s really rewarding to see the results and especially share that experience with volunteers and visitors. I feel like AquaGrow Farms volunteers also get the satisfaction of knowing that they’re making a positive impact on their community first-hand. I pass along the feedback to them and they’re always happy to hear that the produce is being well received by families using our food banks.
I’ve also come to really enjoy teaching people about food security and the process of aquaponics so I look forward to the monthly AquaGrow Farm tours. It’s a lot of fun to engage people and show them how aquaponics works in a hands-on way and they’re always surprised that this is something they can do in their own homes. It’s such an easy and effective form of agriculture. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities and maybe in the future it’ll be the norm for everyone to sustainably grow food in their own homes for a healthier and less hungry Mississauga.
4. How can people get involved?
Just as previously mentioned, people can volunteer either as an AquaGrow Farms assistant or choose from the many other opportunities available on our website.
If you’d like a tour, please contact me and I’d be happy to show you around our farm.
You can also make the most of your food drive donations and choose healthy, nutritious items to donate. Fruit, vegetables, grains, and proteins like canned fish and meat are great options!
If you’d prefer to give financially, that’s no problem at all. Financial donations help The Mississauga Food Bank source and purchase fresh and healthy food year-round, much like the aim of AquaGrow Farms.
5. What’s next for AquaGrow Farms?
That’s a good question actually! We’re still in the process of making sure we’re reaching the full potential our farm can offer, but I think we’re getting close to that now.
From there, it seems like the sky’s the limit. We’re in the early stages of looking at other types of produce we can grow like tomatoes and we want to make use of every inch of space we have. In other words, we’re not done growing!
Get all the information on AquaGrow Farms at themississaugafoodbank.org/aquagrow.
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