Growing Futures a deliciously sustainable social enterprisePublished on April 8, 2017

  • Mayor Watson with Growing Futures young entrepreneurs

  • Fisher Park - Summit Alternative teacher David Farley with Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper

  • Pesto made by Fisher Park - Summit Alternative Students for sale at Thyme & Again

  • Shirley Westeinde and Parkdale Food Centre Kitchen co-Manager Sarah Stewart

  • Students from Cambridge Street Public School with Parkdale Food Centre manager Karen Secord

  • Tower Garden at the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards

  • Young entrepreneur Thomas serving up Green Goddess Juice

Stars of the local food industry and community builders from across the city joined forces with over a hundred schoolchildren at the Innovation Centre on April 6, 2017 to celebrate the launch of phase two of the Parkdale Food Centre’s innovative Growing Futures program.

Conceived of by the Food Centre’s dynamic director, Karen Secord, the program involves growing fresh herbs and vegetables in hydroponic towers in a number of Kitchissippi-area schools and community centres. Students and volunteers harvest the crops while also forging relationships with local businesses to sell their produce and reinvest some of the profits into seeds, nutrients and other supplies while supporting the Parkdale Food Centre and other charities. The lessons being learned are as bountiful as their harvests.

Growing Futures was launched after Karen was nominated to participate in a residency on economic inequality at the Banff Centre. This experience, and the subsequent support of 52 Canadian influencers who selected Karen’s project as one of six national winners, provided the experience and the structure for the incubation of Growing Futures. Ten initial garden towers have expanded to twenty-two and the program has announced an ambitious goal: in honour of Canada’s milestone birthday in 2017, it is hoped there will be 150 tower gardens growing by the end of the year. To that end, Growing Futures is looking for individuals and businesses to help sponsor the expansion and serve as mentors.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who was on hand for the launch, quickly stepped up and committed that the city will purchase five garden towers, several of which will be placed at City Hall, with the remainder offered to schools or community centres who want them. He praised Karen’s indefatigable efforts to make a difference in the lives of so many people and joked that, “the most frightening words to be heard at City Hall are: ‘Karen Secord on Line 1’.”

The Growing Futures project aims to create a lasting and permanent impact on food security and all involved hope the model will spread to other communities across the country. Karen noted that while building social enterprise and sustainable businesses are important outcomes, she is also proud of the fact that Growing Futures gives children a chance to be social innovators. Collectively, the program’s participants – youth, teachers and business owners – are helping to fund a more resilient next generation as students learn about nutrition, economic inequality, real world problem solving, collaboration, business skills and how to build more caring and sustainable communities. “This is a huge step towards eliminating food insecurity,” she added.

Emcee Mark Sutcliffe praised the Growing Futures project, calling it “an exciting initiative that brings together local businesses, community partners and young entrepreneurs.” He cited several of the many partnerships that have been formed, including students from Connaught Public School who sell leafy greens to Culture Kombucha, and Fisher Park / Summit Alternative Public School students who transform their bumper crops of basil into delicious pesto which gets sold at Thyme & Again. “This initiative engages children and youth and has garnered tremendous enthusiasm among the business community,” added Mark.

Appropriately, the Growing Futures phase two launch was held at the newly-opened Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards. It’s a community space that celebrates innovation in all its forms and was a fitting choice for celebrating the success of this community-driven initiative. As for the timing, it could not have been more fortuitous as the Parkdale Food Centre has just been announced as this year’s recipient of the United Way Community Builder of the Year Award.

For more information or to support the program, please visit

Paula Roy

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