Fish farm idea floating in limbo

Red tape may smother the idea of a fish farm in Crescent Town before it gets a chance to grow.

That is the concern expressed by John Crumb, a manager at Pinedale Properties. Pinedale owns the vacant three-level Crescent Town retail space where Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts and a newly formed community group have suggested an aquaponics farm and food co-op might go.

Crumb said recent surveys show that the vacant space, which once housed a whole Dominion supermarket, is proving tough to rent since a Hasty Market moved out last year. He said a resident-run project like the proposed food co-op and aquaponics farm would be a welcome change.

“We’re behind it,” said Crumb. “I think the next step is that the city has to get involved.”

“If they’re not going to be on board, we all have to stop working.”

Crumb, Potts, and Ward 32 city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon have all recently toured Aqua Greens, an indoor aquaponics farm that started in a Mississauga office park last year. The farm is onto its ninth harvest of arugula, lettuce, kale, and herbs grown in trays that float on the same water used to raise a freshwater fish called tilapia.

Aqua Greens owner Craig Petten says he and his partner Pablo Alvarez are born-and-bred Torontonians who wanted to start up here.

But even after two positive meetings with Toronto city councillors, Petten said they couldn’t get the proper zoning to go ahead.

“That’s why we came to Mississauga,” he said. “We had a feeling that we would be bogged down in that for quite some time.”

Before they amalgamated into Toronto, Petten said the cities of Etobicoke and York allowed agriculture on some land zoned industrial.

But Petten said City of Toronto staff are unwilling to ‘grandfather’ such pre-amalgamation zonings.

In Mississauga, on the other hand, aquaponics facilities fall under manufacturing.

“They were way more open about it,” he said.

Given all the moisture in an indoor aquaponics farm, Petten said ventilation is likely the biggest single issue operators and Toronto officials need to look at. Another is getting rid of the chloramine in Toronto tap water.

Local Ward 31 councillor Janet Davis said no one had approached her office about the proposal yet.

McMahon, councillor for the neighbouring Ward 32, said as a member of Ontario’s farmer’s market board, she felt it was bad news that Aqua Greens was forced to set up outside Toronto.

“That’s really upsetting,” she said. “When we passed our Grow TO policy a couple years ago, we were trying to cut through that red tape so we’re not turning away food entrepreneurs like that.”

“We want to keep jobs in Toronto, not send them to Mississauga.”

Petten wished good luck to anyone able to get a Toronto aquaponics project off the ground.

“Anything you can get in Toronto, that’s fantastic,” he said. “The community has to grow.”

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