Inside Scadding Court Community Centre, a miniature closed-loop ecosystem is looking to help boost food security in the area while providing jobs and training for a handful of local youth.
The centre’s new aquaponics system marks the latest in a long line of innovations at Scadding. In the 1970s, the centre opened the City of Toronto’s first community garden, and Aquaponics 707 (named after the community centre’s address at 707 Dundas St. W.) adds a new high-tech feature to the organization’s ongoing efforts to help find new sources of food.
Aquaponics 707 features two barrels full of tilapia, and filters the waste from those fish to collect nutrients, which will feed a variety of plants being grown in separate water tanks. The fish will be fed specially sourced mealworms, maggots, earthworms and the like, which Scadding also plans to grow and harvest on-site.
“This is the first (system) of its kind in a community centre in the City of Toronto,” said Scadding Court executive director Kevin Lee. “It will definitely help with food security in the area, and will help us provide jobs and training for youth (who will maintain the system) and skills development.”
The plants – including lettuce, kale, bok choy, watercress, basil and more – will go toward local programs or be sold off at reasonable prices, with the proceeds supporting the running of the system and other Scadding initiatives.
“We’ll make it so people can buy a whole plant and a bag of water, and with some of them, like kale or basil, they can keep growing them in a jar on their windowsill and eat from it for the rest of the summer,” Lee said.
The fish themselves will also grow in their barrels until they, too, are ready to eat. Lee hopes to partner with a Toronto restaurant to sell some of the food grown on-site.
“There’s no bugs, no pesticides – it’s all natural and it doesn’t get any more local than this,” he said.
He noted the tilapias will take as long as six months to grow enough to be meal-worthy, while the water-grown veggies will take far, far longer.
“If we do it properly and the system finds the right balance, we could produce a few hundred pounds in a week,” Lee said.
The system was made possible thanks to $25,000 in development fees provided by councillor Joe Cressy’s office, though Lee noted Scadding went all-out to create a polished, professional-looking aquaponics facility given its public location. Other organizations could conceivably come up with something far cheaper.
It will also serve as an educational resource. Local schools will be able to come in and check out the mini-ecosystem, and Lee welcomes others to drop in and learn how to implement similar initiatives elsewhere.
“We want to show other communities how they can do the same thing for very little money,” he said.
That hope isn’t limited to other community centres and Toronto-based organizations. Scadding is partnering with Ian Clarke from OCAD to look at the possibility of setting up an off-grid climate-controlled aquaponics system in the far north.
While the new aquaponics system is already up and running, it will officially be launched at a special ceremony at Scadding Court Community Centre, 707 Dundas St. W., at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18.