Local business helps seniors and students grow their own gardens with multicultural foods
Poritosh Roy is an Agricultural and Environmental Engineer who grew up in Bangladesh. He travelled around the world to study Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Engineering in various climates. Time spent in Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, and many other countries was used to learn how each culture grows and cultivates food. While in Japan, Poritosh’s passion was further ignited when presented the opportunity to work on a Japanese farmer’s plot to cultivate and share it’s yields. When he came to Canada, he realized that most of the fruits and vegetables are imported, with the exception being the small variety grown domestically in the summer seasons. Canada also presented an opportunity to contribute to the circular food economy. Poritosh wanted to apply his learnings from across the world and see if he could grow other varieties here in Canada. Poritosh knew that learning how to grow non-native produce in Canada would not only reduce the amount of transportation and CO2 produced by shipping but also provide longer shelf life and freshness of produce – thereby reducing food waste. From this, he decided to start Greentech AgriFood & Innovation Canada (GAIC) in 2018. Poritosh’s goal was to promote Adoptable Smart Urban Agriculture (ASUA), improve food self-sufficiency and security, along with reducing food waste and emissions from importing food from other countries. Recognizing the changing population demographics, i.e., the growing population of immigrants in Guelph, he knew that there was a need for fresh culturally appropriate foods as well. As a result, GAIC is working on trying to cultivate different types of produce within Canadian climates.
When GAIC was accepted into the Seeding Our Food Future (SOFF) program, they wanted to focus on growing food on unused land and community plots for seniors/students who otherwise could not. They recognized that many seniors, due to their physical limitations, could not maintain the upkeep and demands of planting, weeding, and tending to gardens. GAIC reached out to several senior citizens in Guelph to see if they would be interested in growing food in their backyards, and nine of them agreed to join GAIC’s initiative. The team helped the seniors prepare the plots, plant seedlings, and monitor the gardens on a bi-weekly basis. Poritosh noted that as the summer went on, he could see that by having a flourishing garden in their backyard, many of the senior citizens’ moods had greatly improved. They were happy to have a thriving garden to sustain them and were proud to share their yield with their neighbours/relatives. Additionally, GAIC had 3 community plots and grew vegetables and fruit for other seniors in the area. They donated produce to the Central Student Association FoodBank at the University of Guelph and the Guelph FoodBank.
For Poritosh, the Circular Food Economy should be understood as a closed-loop system that helps to avoid food loss and waste. If people produce and consume food locally, they become self-sustaining and start reducing vast amounts of emissions and food waste. Food waste is one of the biggest problems within the food industry, and he notes that more than 50% of all food in Canada goes to waste. Poritosh explains that instead of going to the grocery store and buying food which likely has a short shelf-life (because of the long-distance transportation), it is far more reasonable to source/produce locally or from one’s own backyard – directly from farm to fork. This is especially relevant if there are foods from home countries that can be grown in Canadian climates instead of being imported, which further reduces emissions and environmental costs. Poritosh adds that waste from food production (biomass) can be returned as compost/biochar to improve plants growth, and/or used to sequester carbon in soil, which creates that closed-loop system.