Huronia Transition Homes (HTH) is looking to grow. And that means more than just expanding its operations.
“We’ve wanted to do a social enterprise like this for a long time,” she said. “We looked at several business opportunities and none of them quite fit. But this concept of growing food seems like a great idea.”
HTH has partnered with ZipGrow Canada to create a ‘vertical farm’ at the facility, which allows produce to be grown on movable racks with minimal use of water.
“One of the big benefits of this technology is that it’s not like a greenhouse,” said Haily MacDonald, manager of community relations development at HTH. “It’s a fully controlled environment where you can stack and get the max yield of the product and make it sustainable.”
The goal is to see women using HTH’s facilities earn some money by working at growing and selling the produce.
“It helps to break down social isolation and give women an employment opportunity that does not involve a lot of commitment up front,” said Willis. “It’s about working in a supportive environment so they can build some confidence in their ability to get into employment again.”
The facility will also address food insecurity by giving people a place to buy affordable produce that is grown locally, said Willis.
“We’ll be able to supply the community with fresh greens and herbs,” she said. “It’s a really great opportunity for us.”
Operation Grow will eventually include other opportunities HTH has long wanted to deliver, including a community room, yoga studio and meditation hall, and a place to have a shower and do laundry.
“Operation Grow is about everything that the women we support have asked us for in the last 10 years coming together in one place,” said Willis. “They don’t just want therapeutic supports. They want a place where they can go and build relationships.”
Operation Grow will occupy the former LCBO location at 436 Bay St., breathing new life into the site.
Willis said she had hoped to have the facility fully operational by late spring or early summer. Despite receiving funding from the province and $1 million from the HTH board, the project is over budget and in need of community fundraising to get the doors open. Once that happens, Willis said, Operation Grow will be completely sustainable on its own.
“It’s our dream and it’s coming through now,” said Willis. “We’ve talked to a lot of people in the field and we’ve got a really great plan in place.”