Local grower says coco peat to boost Niagara production
BY NATE SMELLE
As urban expansion increasingly gobbles up more fertile farmland in Niagara and the population continues to rise, the demand for sustainably produced, healthy food also grows. The owners of Nature Lovers Garden Centre/Floral Dimensions on Hwy. 20 in Fenwick, Amanjit and Gurwinder Josan, are striving to tackle this problem and help Niagara achieve food security in an innovative way.
Rather than using a conventional growing medium such as peat moss, which destroys the wetland ecosystems from which it is extracted, the Josans have been experimenting with a mix of coconut husks and organic fertilizers known as coco peat. So far, Amanjit says, their experimentation has been a success. He says that the aim of his research is to help local farmers sustainably grow more food.
Amanjit says that he has been trying out different ratios of coco peat and fertilizers with several types of vegetables and plants to find the most productive combinations. Once he has gathered the results, he says he is going to share them with the farming community throughout Ontario. Employing the expertise he has acquired from growing food in India, Holland, Belgium, Germany and now Canada, Amanjit says he possesses a wealth of knowledge regarding what it takes to inspire a successful harvest. Having seen how productive coco peat could be while conducting his research and teaching horticulture at Punjab University in his native India, Amanjit was not surprised to see how effective it can be in Canada. Though the climate in Southern Ontario is very different from that in India, Amanjit says because coco peat is an organic fiber that retains water and allows sufficient aeration, it creates the perfect conditions for most plants to thrive.
“We Canadians are working hard but at the end of the day look at what we are eating,” Amanjit says.
“When you go to the grocery shop things are coming from China, India, Pakistan, Chile, South Africa. Sure, not everything we can produce inside regularly, but there are many vegetables that we can grow year-round. Instead of depending on other countries we can do it ourselves.”
Engaging in a wide range of experiments in and around the greenhouses on their 100-acre parcel of land, Amanjit has observed that the coco peat has proven itself an effective growing medium for vegetables commonly grown in North America, such as tomatoes, beans, squash, lettuce and a variety of herbs.
Interestingly, he has also observed that Asian vegetables, such as okra, tinda, bitter melon and fenugreek, grow extremely well in coco peat. Considering the demand for these types of vegetables is increasing along with the international community choosing to make Niagara their home, Amanjit says coco peat has the potential to significantly decrease Niagara’s dependency on other countries to grow the food people are eating here.
This is good for people’s health and the environment, he says. Adding to the value of coco peat is its versatility as a raw material. Walking through the main greenhouse, Amanjit pointed to several products they have for sale that were made from the same coconut fibres used to make the peat. Some of these include bird houses, door mats, scrub brushes and hanging baskets.
“We would like to eliminate using as much plastic as possible, because it is not healthy and it creates global warming,” says Gurwinder.
“My father, my brother, my mom, and so many other relatives have died from cancer, so I just want to contribute to helping people be healthy.”
The Josans intend to start selling the vegetables they have been growing at their location on Hwy 20 by the end of July.
With the ability to grow food in their greenhouses year-round, they are planning to make locally grown produce available to the people of Pelham on a permanent basis.
Why should people in Niagara and Canada to go hungry when farmers have the ability to grow more than enough food annually, Amanjit says.
With an abundance of land available for growing food, the Josans are looking for opportunities to partner with local schools and not-for-profit organizations to help feed people in need.
“People might say why would I spend two dollars here when I can spend one dollar at the [supermarket], but, they are not thinking about the quality and the pureness of their food,” Amanjit says.
“We have to think about quality when we buy a television, or if we want a Mercedes car, but when it comes to our bodies we say go to the cheap grocery store. It’s a shame nobody teaches students about healthy food or nutrition in the classroom. We are taught about fashion, technology, this, that, but what about health technology and food. We have to bring our kids from the schools to the farms and the greenhouses to show them. This is the most important area where we are lacking.”