The Ripple Farms Effect, A Fresh Look at Urban Agriculture | Ontario Culinary
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The Ripple Farms Effect, A Fresh Look at Urban Agriculture in Toronto

The emerging industry of urban farming is fast growing and becoming a critical part in a city’s local food system.

How do you set your farm apart? Enter Steven Bourne, Brandon Hebor and their one-of-a-kind urban farm, Ripple Farms, located at the Evergreen Brickworks in the heart of Toronto, Ontario.

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Brandon Hebor & Steven Bourne, Co-founders of Ripple Farms

When they were first introduced by a mutual friend, Steven expressed some serious interest in Brandon’s at-home hydroponics tower system. As one does. From there, they put their heads together over a business plan of Steve’s and discussed creating a business around ?Sustainable Food for Sustainable Cities�. Eventually, they landed on the semi-portable, low-risk Urban Farming Unit design and ran with it. Amazingly, they modified the concept to withstand the harsh Canadian climate and grow food in the middle of winter.

“We started in Toronto because it�s where Steven and I have an excellent network of mentors and resources that have helped us to get up and running quickly. The opportunity to work on the Evergreen Brickworks property has been outstanding. Everyone has been extremely helpful and supportive since Day 1. The location is a total getaway from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, making the perfect destination for us to set up Canada�s first Urban Farming Unit.”

Firstly, Ripple operates as a social enterprise and is dedicated to putting people before profits. Think: the Ripple Effect. When you throw an object in water, one ripple after another expands across the surface. Just like one action can create a series of other events to occur. In this case, the creation of Ripple Farms will benefit their surrounding society, environment and economy and in turn have a similar effect in other communities.

Ripple Farms seeks to create social, environmental and economic benefit ?Ripples� around each of their Urban Farms by:

Social: hands-on workshops at farms for community members

Environmental: Growing food using a ?Transparently Organic� Aquaponics

Environmental/Economic: Partnering to reduce food miles and improve nutrition

Economic: Providing jobs in the local community as the business grows

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Ripple Farms are currently producing leafy greens as they fine tune their system for long-term productivity – three lettuce varieties, two types of spinach, swiss chard and two types of basil. Their goal is to work closely with chefs and cater to their needs. Plants will take anywhere from 4-8 weeks depending on preferred size.

How do they grow these greens in a shipping container, you ask? Well. The plants are fed by just over 100 tilapia. The fish act as the biological engine of the entire system. They convert high protein feed into ammonia (their poop). Brandon & Steven filter the water for suspended solids and then process it to convert the ammonia into nitrate with the help of ?good microbes�. This aquaculture system is housed in the shipping container, pumping nutrient-rich water to an upstairs greenhouse where you can find the vertical farm and growing greens. How cool is that?!

The farm is proof that we can grow food on top of concrete in a self-sustaining ecosystem. Yay! Brandon and Steven have replicated an ecosystem that can be controlled to favour both the plants and fish. Compared to traditional agriculture, their urban farm is about 95% efficient due to reduced water loss & waste, can operate 365 days of the year, and because of close to ideal growing conditions, their greens and tilapia are nutrient-dense and full of flavour.

“The long term goal of Ripple Farms is – rather simply – to feed as many people as we can by providing access to local, healthy and affordable food.”

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Currently, the Ripple Farms team have plans to provide Chef Brad Long at Feast On Certified Cafe Belong with their greens – grown less than 200m away. Talk about local food! Fortunately, they have some excellent chef friends to help pick out some unique varieties that chefs love to use and can be grown in an aquaponic environment. As the business begins to grow, they are looking forward to connecting with other chefs and restaurant owners.

Ripple is offering weekend Aquaponics 101 workshops out of Scadding Court Community Centre and Evergreen Brickworks throughout the spring and summer. They will be at the Green Living Show and representing part of Toronto�s emerging Urban Agriculture on a panel discussion.

Stay updated on Ripple Farms’ exciting news and events — follow them on social media (@ripplefarms) and visit their website here.