Parkdale Food Centre garden towers send roots into the community

By Bhavana Gopinath –

Parkdale Food Centre launched the second phase of its social enterprise, Growing Futures, at a reception held at the Innovation Centre on April 6. Present at the occasion were Mayor Jim Watson, Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper, members of the Parkdale Food Centre, partners from the community, and 120 budding young entrepreneurs. This initiative uses produce-growing towers to help children participate in a business enterprise, become financially literate, and understand the value of wholesome, nutritious food.

Karen Secord, the manager of the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC), is the driving force behind this initiative. In January 2016, Karen was nominated to participate in a unique residency on economic inequality at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Karen has spearheaded several initiatives to help families and younger members, including the Thirteen Muesli project. (Which you can read more about here and here.).

At Banff, she drew on her PFC experiences with families who are on the edge of poverty, worried about nutritious food for their children, and concerned that their kids are not financially literate. With the help of Doug Pawson, Executive Director of the Centre for Social Enterprise Development, Carley Schelck from Urban Element, and Alissa Campbell, Coordinator, PFC, she fleshed out an idea to involve kids and food. As Karen said at the reception, “Children are where we need to start if we want to make a change in the system.”

The Growing Futures program uses hydroponic growing towers to grow fresh produce and herbs indoors, all year long. The towers are installed in the community, and participating children tend to the plants, harvest and sell the produce as-is, or turn the produce into marketable products like pesto. Children from five Ottawa Carleton District School Board schools have participated in the first phase, and towers have also been installed in schools and community centres like Rochester Heights Community Houses, Morrison Gardens Community House, and Dovercourt Recreation Association.

Matt Harrington is an educator at Fisher Park Public School. His students are participating in the Growing Futures initiative. “The inspiration we see around the garden towers is happening every day in the classroom,” says Matt. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

In the second phase, PFC wants to grow the business further. Several community partners are supporting this endeavour: Thyme & Again, Culture Kombucha, Urban Element, Pure Kitchen, Tartan Group, Algonquin College, the Innovation Centre, Red Apron, CakeLab, WWBIA, GCTC, Absinthe, Hintonburger, Seed to Sausage, and the Beckta group of restaurants.

These supporters will sponsor, mentor, and teach leadership and financial skills to the children. This approach ensures that children and families can access fresh, healthy food, and help build the community, by adding social purpose and value. As Councillor Jeff Leiper pointed out, PFC has changed the notion of a food centre and has pioneered a new model of working with the community.

At the event, Mayor Watson congratulated Parkdale on being awarded the United Way Community Builder of the Year award, and supported PFC’s vision of having 150 towers set up to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. He also committed to the City of Ottawa buying five of the growing towers.

Sue Hall, the project lead for Growing Futures and PFC’s Head Nutritionist, says there are many ways to help this initiative grow in phase two. A community member can choose to be one or more of the following: a Sponsor (provide funds to set up growing towers), a Host (provide space for a tower), a Business Partner (purchase the produce), a Mentor (share knowledge and experience), or a Harvester (plant, maintain, and harvest).

PFC, she says, is fortunate to have a community that supports their cause and is hoping for more social participation. For more information, contact Sue at 613-558-8264 or by email at

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