Farm fresh and accessible year-round: Durham College’s innovative indoor farm supports local food security

The Barrett Centre Indoor Farm has practical applications in urban and northern settings where it’s tough to grow fresh food.

Even on the coldest day of the year, fresh produce will be ripe for the picking and ready to be shared with the community from a new and innovative indoor farm located at Durham College’s (DC) Barrett Centre for Innovation in Sustainable Urban Agriculture (Barrett Centre) in Ajax.

The Barrett Centre Indoor Farm is a hydroponic growing unit manufactured by Growcer in Canada. Think shelves and bunk beds for plants inside an 18-foot structure similar to a shipping container.

“The Barrett Centre Indoor Farm is a great new addition to our Ajax Urban Farm,” said Barrett Centre partnership manager Brenna Bizley. “This indoor farm will allow us to grow produce year-round, helping to address some of the barriers to fresh food and food security that exist in our community, especially in the winter months.”

The unit was delivered in August, and the team is now working on producing the first crop.

Similar hydroponic units have generally been used to grow leafy greens like lettuce as well as herbs. But in this case, two different crops can be grown at a time and part of the research aspect for the project involves experimenting with different types of fruits and vegetables.

A key feature for the indoor farm is that it is accessible for people who use mobility devices.

“At the Barrett Centre we’re trying to support traditionally marginalized and underserved populations,” said Bizley. “Someone who has mobility issues and is interested in the agriculture industry may think that’s not a viable career option because there’s uneven terrain but what we’re trying to demonstrate is that actually anyone can come and work in the agriculture industry using this unit as an example.”

The indoor farm is only the second AODA-compliant farm in Canada and Growcer worked directly with the Rick Hanson Foundation to design the Osiris Access unit.

For the Barrett Centre, the goal is to address food insecurity and demonstrate options that can serve urban communities without access to farm land.

“You could put something like this in a parking garage in an apartment building and you could grow food in there that could help feed the residents,” said Bizley.

It could also benefit northern communities with short growing seasons.

“We’re very excited to share this indoor farm and innovative growing practices with the community. We hope to inspire a new generation of urban farmers to explore innovative ways to grow food in urban settings.”

As part of work-integrated learning opportunities, DC students are involved in all aspects of the Barrett Centre. Students from the Horticulture – Food and Farming program and the Horticulture Technician program also visit the site on field trips to learn more about hydroponics and indoor growing.

Bizley adds that the Barrett Centre is community-focused and she’s working with high school and elementary school teachers to arrange for trips to the farm.

Food grown in the indoor farm will also benefit community groups like Community Care Durham and it may be used in food literacy and cooking classes.

“We’re really trying to get feedback from the community about what they need and what they want to see at the farm because at the end of the day, the farm is meant to serve the community that it’s in,” said Bizley.

Learn more about the Barrett Centre’s sustainable and innovative initiatives online.