A food bank in Cloverdale, B.C., will begin growing its own food in the new year with two indoor growing walls capable of producing up to 600 pounds of fresh produce each year.

The Zion Lutheran Church hosts a food bank every second Tuesday morning, serving about 80 families and up to 300 people. But produce can get expensive — especially in the winter.

"When people make donations to a food bank, they're obviously thinking non-perishable food items. You know, food in a can," said Marilyn Herrmann, executive director of the Surrey Food bank.

"The only way that we can give fresh is if we purchase or if we partner with farmers or growers in our community."

Now the food bank will have access to a full supply of salad greens — including lettuce, swiss chard, mustard greens, kale and collards — to serve its population.

Growing opportunities

The installation of the vertical garden will be done by Living Garden Foods, an organization based out of Langley, B.C., that specializes in this kind of growing.

The organization hopes to see vertical gardens used across the country in communities struggling with food security.

"Food security is a major issue, especially in northern areas of B.C. and Northern Canada in general," said Ethan O'Brien, president of Living Garden Foods.

"So if we can get a lot of different social organizations growing food in local communities in indoor climates, I think it'll be great for local economies and people and bring communities together."

The systems are soil-less and use a hydroponic technique to supply plants with a formulated nutrient solution added directly to the water. This way of growing uses significantly less water and doesn't require any weeding.

Long-term savings

Water and nutrients are pumped from the bottom gutter to the top of the towers, which then flows down and is absorbed by the plant roots. 

Any excess is drained back into the bottom gutter to be reused, O'Brien explained to On the Coast host Catherine Rolfsen.

"With the way that local produce is priced at right now, I'd say … each year they'll save more than the system cost," said O'Brien.

The installation of the "farm wall" will cost just over $5,000.

The organization also offers local restaurants the option to grow their own fresh herbs gardens.

A grant from the Vancity Shared Success program, which shares 30 per cent of its net profits with members of community organizations, helped make this project possible.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast. 

To hear the full interview listen to audio labelled Cloverdale food bank to start growing fresh produce from their walls.