Last week, BizEnergy paid a visit to the Live Green Toronto Festival where artists, city of Toronto workers and businesses from every industry gathered together in an effort to promote all things green. From the moment we crossed over the yellow tape, we noticed an obvious theme taking shape; materializing in the form of paper pamphlets that we’re hoping were made out of recycled material, the call to “Get Growing” was heard loud and clear.

Back to the Roots

Strolling through vendors selling their coconut jams (delicious) and promoting eco-friendly soaps and cleaning products for the home, we stumbled across a company called Back to the Roots, based in the U.S. and on the verge of breaking into the Canadian Market. The company was built in an effort to find ways of turning waste into food. According to Amy Wilson, Business Development Lead in Ontario, Back to the Roots is a company that “actually wants to do good and be good.”

At present, Back to the Roots sells Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden kits, designed for use in schools, community gardens and family homes. Mushrooms are grown using recycled coffee grounds and the company is in the process of launching “The Lifebox”, a cardboard box that will be used as packaging for the mushroom kits and will be embedded with seeds that can be planted to yield an herb garden once emptied; simply plant and pick. The idea of greening a product from head-to-toe is rather novel and a concept which can actually slow down the expansion of a product line. “Most products don’t align with our mission” says Wilson, “all products have to have these values in mind.”

According to Wilson, as the product reaches the shelves of grocers throughout Ontario including various Loblaw locations and independently owned stores like Sweet Potato and Evergreen Brick Works, the next logical step will be to see if this is something of interest to restaurant owners in the city, and why not?

Grow it yourself

Whether it’s investing in a Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden kit, courtesy of Back to the Roots, or displaying home-grown herbs at the front of your restaurant, growing your own food is a concept that is rapidly gaining popularity within the foodservice industry. Being able to grow a product that offers that fresh “off the vine” flavour, naturally contains more vitamins and is cost-effective in the long-run if well maintained certainly has some advantages .

The major challenge to growing food in the city of course, is finding room to do so, but, as many restaurants are finding out, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The grow-it-yourself phenomenon blazing its way through the foodservice community is known as Hyperlocal and, according to the National Restaurant Association, is currently one of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry. Restaurants and grocers from the U.S. to the U.K. are starting to invest in growing their own food and are producing many of their own ingredients on-site.

How to go Hyperlocal

Looking to hop on board? If you’re a restaurant looking to go hyperlocal and serve up some extremely fresh and local cuisine, we’ve got some useful tips to help set you on the right path:

  • Start with herbs! From parsley to basil, herbs are easy to grow and maintain, and can be displayed just about anywhere. Plant some herb pots along the walls of your restaurant or create a mini-herb garden on the terrace for all to see. Remember that one of the advantages to growing your own food is giving customers the impression you care, so show off and display with pride.
  • Take small steps. Once you’ve mastered your herbs, you’re ready to venture into the world of veg! Try starting with vegetables like tomato (yes, technically it’s a fruit), radish, zucchini, beet, carrot, spinach (great for salads), peas, pepper, lettuce and onion, all of which, according to Ecosalon are the easiest crops to grow at home (or in your restaurant).
  • Aim to grow cost-effective produce like raspberries and asparagus; choose items that normally go bad quickly and are expensive in-store. By growing vegetables and fruits that yield large amounts of produce over an extended period of time, you’ll be guaranteed to save money in the long run.
  • If you’re going to go green, why not go organic? Advertising organic home grown ingredients can help brand your restaurant as exceptionally green and expand your clientele. Research organic practices and regulations and implement them in your garden right from the start.
  • Don’t have room to grow food on-site? Don’t panic. Have a look to see if there are any shared or community gardens available for use in your area. You’ll need to make the trip back and forth a few times a week just to check in and collect fresh product but it’s a great alternative to not growing at all. If you’re located in Toronto and need a helping hand, try calling on the Young Urban Farmers; these guys can set up urban gardens just about anywhere.
  • Use your kitchen scraps to make hearty soil. According to the experts, most vegetables prefer soil that is rich in organic material. Using existing compost to enrich your soil will help turn your waste into food for the future!
  • If growing your own food just doesn’t make sense, you can still go green. Instead of growing it yourself, try sourcing ingredients from local farmers and suppliers.

Are you a restaurant in Ontario currently growing your own food? Leave a comment below and let us know so we can come check you out!

image credit: Michelle/Give a Girl a Fig