Sprouts are superfoods. They're full of digestive enzymes, minerals and vitamins and can provide quick, healthy energy. In Toronto, arguably the best source for sprouts is Toronto Sprouts, an indoor farm and retailer tucked away on a sub-level space at 720 Bathurst Street.
You've likely tasted their sprouts without even knowing it. In addition to their on site retail operation, Toronto Sprouts distributes to health food stores, restaurants and organic boutiques all over the city. Some of the places you can find them include Organics on Bloor, Fiesta Farms, Loblaws, The Healthy Butcher, Fresh from the Farm, Noah's on Bloor, The Dufferin Grove and Brickworks Farmers Markets, Yasi's Place, Grapefruit Moon, Booster Juice and Fat Cat Wine Bar.
Among the most popular sprouts on offer are their alfalfa, broccoli and sunflower. They can be bought in bulk bags - freshly cut just feet away in their indoor farm - or in smaller, traditional containers. My favourite is definitely the pea shoots. I could eat these any day of the week. They're perfect in a sandwich, rice bowl or even to eat by themselves as a snack. Also available are wheatgrass (trays and bags), bean mix and something called the ancient eastern blend.
I recently connected with Toronto Sprouts' Zara Fischer-Harrison to find out more about the store, business and indoor farm. She was kind enough to give me a tour as well as respond to my questions below:
Can you describe for me the process of growing sprouts?
For our earthgrown sprouts (Sunflower, Pea Greens, Wheatgrass), the process is anywhere from 7-12 days. First we weigh out and sanitize our seeds in food grade hydrogen peroxide; then we soak the seed overnight to get them all pumped up for germination; we plant the seeds on top of a soilless mix of peat and other organic matter, stack them up on trays in the dark, unstack them into the light, water them and love them for several more days, harvest them, and voila! Sprouts!
For our hydroponically grown sprouts (alfalfa, broccoli, ancient eastern blend, bean mix), we weigh out the seed, sanitize them, chuck 'em into really cool machines called rotatechs, they get watered and rotated for 2-4 days and then transferred on to greening racks under full spectrum fluorescent lighting for a couple more days depending on environmental conditions and yield levels. The sprouts then get packaged, and put out on the shelves at retailer across the city.
What is the shelf life of the sprouts once they're ready?
Our sprouts have an exceptionally long shelf life because of the quality of the seed that we use and our growing techniques. For most of the sprouts they will have a 12-14 days shelf life, and for our pea greens, the shelf life is around 14-21 days. All of our products have best before dates on them.
What are some of the challenges you face with an organic indoor farm?
Some of our challenges are our space restrictions, the cost of hydro power, our downtown location (aka rent) and the building that we are in is very old and poorly insulated. Sprouts are extremely vulnerable to even slight changes in temperature, humidity and light. In the summer we are constantly battling the humid Toronto weather conditions and in the winter, those out of the blue freezing cold days!
So, if you can't find your favourite variety of sprout on the shelves, it could be due to lower than expected yields due to these challenges. We are constantly trying to tweak and figure out how to control all of the variables that affect our little sprouts!
What do you do with all the waste/compost?
Currently we are having it picked up by the city. But...we are actually consulting with the compost experts in the city to figure out an alternative way to transform our certified organic byproducts into rich compost available as a value added product for our farm. If anyone out there would like to help us out with a design and implementation of a superior indoor composting system, please contact us!
I noticed you offer sprouting classes? How often do you have these?
We offer sprouting classes at least once a month, but usually twice depending on demand. We encourage small groups to sign up and are very open to groups who would like to book their own classes. Our class schedule is posted on our website as soon as we confirm our dates. Classes are no more than 10-15 people, and teach you everything you need to know about how to grow your own sprouts at home safely and effectively. Can't get much more local than your own dish rack or windowsill!
What other events do you offer?
We are hosts to many interesting food related and other special events in conjunction with cafe 720. Some of the reoccurring events are raw food preparation courses, meditation groups and yoga classes.
Are there any other indoor farms in Toronto that you know of?
Other farms that exist in Toronto that we know of are few and far between. Most of the ones that exist are hard to find for a reason. FoodShare has a small sprouting operation in the winter in the greenhouse at CAMH on Queen St., but that doesn't officially count as "indoor". Our fellow sprout grower, Uncle George's at the St. Lawrence Market also has his operation indoors.