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Operation Grow close to opening Midland produce shop

In just over two months, Midland residents will be able to start purchasing fresh produce grown right downtown.

Huronia Transition Homes (HTH) has started construction on Operation Grow, a facility that will grow fresh produce while also assisting the women the local shelter supports.

The facility, which is located in the old LCBO building at 436 Bay Street, is going to feature a yoga and meditation hall, drop-in meeting space and kitchen, along with a unique produce-growing operation.

Vertical farming technology will be utilized in the building to maximize the amount of produce the facility can grow. All of the women at the shelter will be trained on how to use the technology and paid a living wage to work at the facility.

“It will act as a training facility because our ultimate dream is to grow Operation Grow into a 10,000-square-foot farm where we will be producing fresh produce 365 days a year for our community and beyond.”

Executive director Kathy Willis said the women they serve played a huge role in the development of the HTH strategic plan. Their feedback was directly considered when creating the vision for a new social enterprise.

“In our 2010 strategic plan the women we spoke to said they were hungry, they were tired, they were isolated and they needed more money,” said Willis.

Operation Grow will address all of these key components by breaking down social isolation, giving women employment opportunities and addressing food insecurity.

“Operation Grow is a multi-purpose building and it will provide women with opportunities to increase resiliencies, enhance their autonomy, allow them to connect and build relationships and allow them to heal more fully from the violence in their lives,” said Willis.

Willis provided a detailed presentation to both Midland and Penetanguishene councils over the past month. She is keeping all the local councils in the loop, in hopes of getting some financial help down the road.

There were no suitable properties in the downtown core, so the project ended up going $1 million over budget on their capital costs in order to keep the project alive.

“We will be completely self-sustainable if we can get the capital costs covered,” said Willis. “We will not be needing to go back to the community for funds to be able to support our program.”

Operation Grow plans on having a retail space and sell produce to local residents.

“You will be able to come every week and pick up your produce at a very convenient location,” said Willis. “We will become a viable source for fresh, nutritious food for many community programs.”

Council was impressed with the project and appeared willing to support the endeavour in some way in the future.

“This is remarkable. The ladies are going to really be impacted by this,” said Mayor Gord McKay.

“It is great to see this come before us and to see this project materializing,” added Coun. Jonathan Main. “It is fantastic to see that you are going with the hub approach.”

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We are getting a little provincial help in our attempts to grow!

Midland's Rosewood shelter gets provincial help for Operation Grow

The Ontario Ministry of the Status of Women has provided HTH, which operates La Maison Rosewood shelter in Midland, $430,000 for its Operation Grow project.

HTH has partnered with ZipGrow Canada to create a “vertical farm,” which allows produce to be grown on movable racks with minimal use of water.

The project will give employment opportunities to some of the women the shelter helps as well as providing fresh produce at a low cost.

According to Rosewood executive director Kathy Willis, Operation Grow has a threefold aim: breaking down social isolation, providing employment opportunities and reducing food insecurity.

“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.”

Operation Grow will occupy the former LCBO location at 436 Bay St., breathing new life into the long-dormant site.

Willis said she expects Operation Grow to be up and running by mid-July.

“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. “I think Operation Grow will do a lot of good in helping a lot of people in our community.”

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Our newest program Operation Grow!

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.”

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Our organization was the recipient of the Positive Community Partner award at this year’s Pride Gala put on by Simcoe Pride. A huge thank you to our wonderful team, for all your hard work at continually breaking down barriers. Congratulations to all of the other award winners!

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