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GR365N practices and teaches hydroponic farming for the social good (6 photos)

GR365N is working with community organizations to create and distribute fresh food

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

With that idea in mind, GR365N (pronounced Green 365) was created. The social enterprise aims to teach individuals how to grow fresh food in hydroponic systems allowing them to access fresh food 365 days a year with minimal growing costs.

With COVID affecting food production, team members Dan Atkinson and Colin McVicker believe hydroponic farming this isn’t the future of food production, rather, it is the present. 

The way the system works is simple. Seedlings are placed in vertical posts that contain plastic substrate. The main water tank pumps water through the entire system and trickles down into the posts leading the plants to grow out horizontally on vertical posts using LED lights, no soil and 95 per cent less water than farms. 

“Anything that grows, you can grow in here,” said Atkinson, agriculture innovation specialist at GR365N. But keeping economics in mind, leafy greens are optimal for growth because of their quick turnover. 

“Our purpose is to empower people to grow fresh food anywhere, anytime,” said communications coordinator Colin McVicker.

Prior to the pandemic, GR365N was installing hydroponic systems for large spaces, but when the pandemic hit, it shifted its focus into two parts: First, the team created a commercial-size hydroponic system to provide fresh food for the community in their Puslinch space and teach people how to use it. Secondly, they ramped up education so people can learn how to use a custom made hydroponic system that suits their needs.

McVicker said the team is currently working with Lakeside HOPE House, Royal City Church and 10 C to find ways to distribute fresh food into the food banks. Their produce will be available in November. 

Their commercial hydroponic system — with most of the technology created in Guelph — is 40 feet deep, 10 feet wide and 10 feet high and grows approximately as much produce as 1.5 acres worth of land would grow. In the span of a year, it can grow eight tonnes of leafy matter. 

“You can almost grow two-thirds faster than a normal plot of land. So every six weeks we’re getting harvest,” said Atkinson allowing users to save money, time and the cost of soil and transportation. 

“So literally we will harvest Thursday and it will be in their place on Friday,” said Atkinson adding that food imported from distanced lands has already begun composting by the time it makes its way to someone’ss home. 

“So you’re not getting produce at the end of its lifestyle, you’re getting it at the beginning right after it’s been harvested.”

Coming from a healthcare and social service background as a program director in Sanguen Centre in Guelph, McVicker stressed the importance of fresh food for the underprivileged in the community who rely on food banks. He said by installing a one time fixed fee of a hydroponic system that is sure to last a lifetime, community organizations will also be able to produce food. 

“We want our community to become more resilient,” said McVicker. 

“We use 95 per cent less water than traditional agriculture. That’s the exciting part. It’s a closed system so there’s no dehydration, there’s no runoff or soil erosion. There’s no nutrient runoff or chemicals used.” 

He said during his time at the Sanguen Health Centre years ago, the team learned very quickly that while the centre had medical support, basic need support, and incredible donors, the food they provided was only through the food bank and was always high sugar and high carbohydrate.  

“There was also a guilt feeling that the best food you can give them Jos Louis or Candy,” said McVicker.

He said once someone donated fresh produce, those in need were excited to get real food, and so he contacted Atkinson two years ago and switched his career to find ways to distribute and make fresh food accessible. 

McVicker said the team also plans to bring commercial size hydroponic systems to parts of the world facing food shortages, currently exploring places in Haiti. 

“That’s part of our business model. Bringing food literacy, bringing food accessibility to everybody,” said McVicker. 

“If people can pick their wall every morning, and if they have a party tonight or they have a newborn and want to know what they’re providing, they can control all the food they have to ensure it's at the ripest, most nutritious. And you have total control over what you have to grow and we will walk with you the whole way through from design to implementation to training.”


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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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