Installation of The Growcer’s hydroponic system on campus is another move towards sustainability and food security
Sept. 2 saw the installation of a new hydroponic system on campus from The Growcer, an Ottawa-based startup that got its start in the University of Ottawa’s Enactus program.
The Growcer was co-founded by Alida Burke and Corey Ellis, U of O alumni, who first learned about issues surrounding food security in remote communities on a trip to Iqaluit, Nunavut in 2015. After many return trips where they met with community and government leaders, the idea of a hydroponic system emerged.
According to Burke, the newly installed system on U of O’s campus has been in the works since 2016. Burke says the company primarily “focuses on food security issues in remote and indigenous communities,” but during the co-founder’s time at U of O’s Start-Up Garage, they realized their idea would fit with the university’s interest in sustainability on campus.
Burke also noted the way the system can help with budgets, saying “right now if there is a drought in California or even in Ottawa, food prices go through the roof.” However, according to her, the system“keeps food prices affordable for the university but still allows for a variety of things for students to eat.”
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. Instead, each plant receives a unique nutrient-rich water solution along with light and CO2. Burke says in order to minimize growing time and maximize yield they “focus on plants that have similar pH levels such as, leafy greens, bok choy, kale, spinach, and herbs.”
This is The Growcer’s first system in Southern Canada, and the first system of its kind on a university campus. The system will grow between 400 to 450 plants per week. Currently growing on campus is a leafy green spring mix, spinach, kale, and basil which will take between four to six weeks to mature. The partnership was formed with Chartwells, U of O’s food service provider, and Thinking Ahead Giving Back program.
Manufacturing began this past summer and the first batch of seeds were place inside the container on Sept. 5. The harvest will be served in the U of O’s dining hall, which will see its first yield in early October.