‘Better than organic’: Scarborough’s 5N2 food charity takes step toward sustainability by growing hydroponic produce
Volunteers make hundreds of meals a day
5N2 Food Charity Hydroponics | Mike Adler |
IMAGE: Founder Seema David shows the progress at 5N2 after moving into their new home at Scarborough’s 705 Progress Ave. more than 18 months ago, and their latest accomplishment, vertical farming.By Dan Pearce/Metroland
5N2 has been a Scarborough lifeline for more than 10 years, and now it’s also a working indoor farm.
In that farm – inside one and soon to be two shipping containers wedged into the charity’s warehouse home – each night is like day.
Powerful lights shine on panels growing kale and lettuce 18 hours a day but are off for peak-time hydro rates.
As December began, 5N2 founder Seema David looked forward to the first full-head harvest of leafy greens in the month’s second half.
“It will cover the entire panel. You won’t even see the panels,” she said.
Nearer the container’s entrance were trays of small, square grow-plugs of sprouting bok choy and mixed greens ready to cover panels on other movable walls.
David hoped the second container would start farming in January. The charity hopes year-round sales of its fresh vegetables will pay for its free programs – and 5N2 may drop samples at local restaurants to attract clients, she said.
“To me, it’s better than organic. The taste is amazing.”
People can support 5N2 by placing orders at https://5n2-farms.localline.ca/shop and there’s a “request to grow” option where clients can reserve produce for planned events.
Started as a charity meal provider at David’s church, 5N2 moved to larger quarters nearby but lost its home in 2021, during the height of the pandemic, when it was distributing 3,500 meals and meal kits every week.
The organization somehow kept going – its equipment and volunteers operating in five places – until April 2022, when 5N2 secured two units at 705 Progress Ave., an industrial mall co-owned by the City of Toronto and the Toronto District School Board.
The location was a bare concrete warehouse, however. It was months before 5N2 could re-build the large kitchen that remains the heart of the organization, and the refrigerators and freezers that store rescued food it turns into meals.
Electrical upgrades necessary for the hydroponic farms took about a year, David said. “We managed to fit them in and squeeze everything else in.”
In the kitchen, volunteers make hundreds of portions a day. David opened a fridge stacked with trays of butter chicken cooked the day before, the smell of onions and garlic wafting out as she did.
On a table was a box containing 44 pounds of pork loin that was defrosting. The meat was 15 days ahead of its expiry date when it was donated; David is often disappointed grocers and other food businesses routinely trash their protein or produce as they approach best-before dates, instead of giving it to the hungry.
“Most companies are throwing their meat. They’d rather not give it to Second Harvest or to us,” she said.
The need in Scarborough, meanwhile, isn’t letting up.
Though 5N2 is not a food bank, people looking for food – international students, new immigrants, people who lost their jobs – find their front door nearly every day.
David’s staff see no one leaves empty handed, she said. “We give them two bags of something, and we direct them to the closest food bank.”
Original Article: https://www.toronto.com/news/better-than-organic-scarboroughs-5n2-food-charity-takes-step-toward-sustainability-by-growing-hydroponic-produce/article_32e9e83c-6765-5c13-946f-03005aecb0c6.html