The Growing Connection mixes decades of local and international hands-on community engagement with exceptional products and services, allowing people to grow the freshest food and to enjoy the tastiest produce.
Our vision is a world in which every family, school, business or institution can choose to engage in growing fresh food, right at the doorstep. We combine our business and environmental goals with a dedication to the elimination of chronic malnutrition, and with the elimination of boring food.
As the managing director of The Grow Connection, Robert Patterson has spent over 30 years designing and implementing agricultural and horticultural projects around the world with United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. After developing TGC’s sister company EcoHeurto, Robert has returned to Canada, eager to dive into the “good food movement” that is rapidly growing across the country. His partner, Christopher Wong, has worked on innovative, sustainable food production in Toronto since 2009 with organizations like Young Urban Farmers and Cultivate Toronto. Together, Robert and Chris form the core team of The Growing Connection.
About Our Managing Director, Robert Patterson
Why do you grow your own food?
I grow as much of my own food as possible for two simple reasons – taste and health. When you have the opportunity to eat freshly picked or harvested vegetables and fruits, you immediately know the difference, and your body says, “Thank you!” On a second, but no less important, level, there is the immense satisfaction of creating and nurturing another living thing… direct participation in the cycles of Nature.
You studied social sciences and nutrition. How did you get into urban farming?
I grew up on a farm in western Quebec, and I worked for many, many years for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – the part of the UN that addresses food and hunger/nutrition issues around the world. I am convinced that there are simple, do-it-yourself solutions to the issues of hunger and poverty, and they can be implemented in urban, peri-urban or rural areas. We can break down traditional barriers and concepts about where to grow food, and who should grow it.
How are you helping people achieve “Fresh food, grown virtually anywhere”?
TGC uses an extremely water-and-space efficient containerized system for growing vegetables, the Caja. The Caja uses up to 80% less water than conventional in-ground gardens or raised beds, and can be installed virtually anywhere (yes, you still need sunlight!). We design gardens at schools, on terraces and rooftops, at institutional and corporate cafeterias, at clinics, hospitals, seniors residences and restaurants…there is really no limit. And because the Caja has no moving parts, no pumps, filters or motors, the operating costs are minimal.
We train all our clients, and can provide any follow-up services as required to make families, schools, indeed all users, completely independent and satisfied, enjoying D-I-Y Health and Taste.
What are some of the gardening challenges that you help your clients with?
Challenges for first-timers include choosing the sunniest spot for the garden, wind and environmental factors, and choice of crops. We help with natural pest control too.
Which vegetables are the best for beginners to plant?
First timers are recommended to start with greens (lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, etc.), which can be started in the late winter for an early Spring planting. In the summer months, crops like tomatoes, squash and peppers are great for beginners. One key element is discussing with the client “What do you LIKE to eat?” It only makes sense to grow what you like!
What is the easiest thing to grow?
In the Caja, most crops are very, very easy. It would probably be wise for first-timers to, start with herbs and greens, and then with some of the basic summer crops (basil, peppers, tomatoes) which do not require extensive pruning or hands-on maintenance.
What fruit can we grow in the Caja in Toronto?
Strawberries, raspberries, ground cherry, blackberries, gooseberries, rhubarb are super easy to grow in our climate.
What’s your favourite early spring green?
My favourite spring greens are arugula and spinach. These plants like the cooler conditions of both spring and fall and can easily be grown into the early winter of December and started as early as March in cold frames.
What’s your favourite variety of tomato?
I love the Sweet 100’s cherry tomato, because they are sugary sweet and hugely abundant. We’ve also had great success with a Golden Cherry tomato that bloomed early, produced all summer long, and made us smile every time we ate them.
Favourite colour of pepper?
Having lived many years in the tropics, I adore spicy food. My favourite peppers include the scotch bonnet and habanero (very similar), and I enjoy them at their different stages – green / yellow/ orange and red as they have distinct tastes at each stage.
Do you believe that we should all grow our own food?
With the Caja, we have eliminated many of the traditional reasons and excuses people and institutions (e.g. schools, hospitals) use to say they cannot grow food. The Caja uses minimal space and water, can be installed – literally – at the doorstep, and can move with you wherever you want. The rewards, in terms of Taste & Health, should convince everyone that growing food can be a wonderful part of one’s life.
How does a Caja make gardening even easier for people?
With the Caja, there are significantly less of ALL inputs – water and fertilizer, and even labour (no weeding). Then there is the simplicity, portability, durability and high likelihood of success, which make the Caja a convenient, affordable, safe and easy way to enter the gardening world.
For those interested in building a new (or improving upon an existing) garden in their yard, when and how should they begin?
Begin over the winter – think about what you want to grow, and how the characteristics of those plants can be adapted / incorporated into your available space; with the Caja, this can be easily done. Start in March with seed trays, or in April / May with starter-plants.
And call us — we can definitely help!