With long, hard winters, Canadians have come to rely on greenhouse grown vegetables to provide a fresh, local food option year-round. Many consider aquaponics to be the next step to sustainable, indoor agriculture.
Aquaponic farms are intricate, closed loop systems that simultaneously cultivate fish and grow plants hydroponically. By replicating natural systems, plants and fish maintain ideal conditions for each other. The plants thrive from the nutrients produced by the fish, and the fish enjoy the clean water filtered by the plants. This unique process uses 90% less water than traditional farming, is highly efficient with land use and produces little waste. However, it is complex and only a small number of operations exist in Canada.
Ontario Sustainable Agriculture, based at 7960 Reesor Rd in Markham, Ontario, is one of these innovative companies. What is even more impressive about this operation is that it was founded and is managed by Pierce Spraggon, a newcomer to agriculture. Pierce learned of aquaponics while studying at the University of Ottawa and was inspired. He independently studied from others in the industry, developed a business plan, and then launched at the start of the Covid pandemic lockdowns in May 2020 when he was just 23 years old.
Pierce with a roughly 1000 gram rainbow trout, ready for harvest.
“I started this company because I see a viable market for local produce and it’s important to support the sustainability of our planet. We’re trying to do something different here. We’re as sustainable as possible and follow best practices for labour as well as every input in the business.” – Pierce Spraggon, Founder, Ontario Sustainable Agriculture
Starting in York Region
Raised in Markham, Pierce chose York Region to grow his business for several reasons. With the area becoming increasingly urban, he hopes that there will be a long-term advantage to providing fresh local food to the population. Plus, he would have the support of friends and family, and the community he grew up with. Today, his sister Amethyst also works full time at Ontario Sustainable Agriculture.
Their team of two is busy. Maintaining the systems, the business operations, reporting to five government ministries, and the farming keeps them engaged 365 days a year. They currently harvest 1,500 heads of lettuce per week and cultivate 750 Rainbow Trout. Their high quality Romaine, Butter, Sweet Crisp, Red and Green leaf lettuces are sold through local farm markets, CSA boxes and are enjoyed at local retirement homes. In the near future, mature fish will be smoked and sold locally as well. New introductions to their range include edible flowers, kale, herbs and leafy greens like bok choy and watercress. Certainly, there are significant plans for growth to meet the high demand for their products.
The team is working to open an on-site retail location before the end of 2022. They would be open year round and sell their own products, as well as other locally grown offerings such as additional produce, eggs, and sustainable hemp clothing.
Certainly, starting any new venture during a pandemic would be stressful, and many would consider this venture inspired. While Pierce confirmed that the early days were intense, he is optimistic for the future. “The light at the end of the tunnel does exist. We have a good team so we have confidence it will work.”
Pierce with a raft of green sweet crisp lettuce ready for harvest, taken directly from their troughs.