News / Toronto

Ryerson student's green roof farming company looking up

Farmium's technology helps city dwellers to grow vertically, literally.

Ben Canning is on a mission to see more produce sprout from Toronto roofs — big and small.

Liz Beddall/Metro

Ben Canning is on a mission to see more produce sprout from Toronto roofs — big and small.

If Ben Canning had his way, Toronto would be growing all of its own food within a few years.

The third-year management student at Ryerson University is on a mission to revolutionize urban farming through a plan that aims to quadruple the amount of produce sprouting on green roofs.

His budding company, Farmium, depends on technology to design, install and maintain automated green roofs. Through the use of machines programmed with precise algorithms and using wireless nodes, home and building owners can make growing food on pretty much any roof possible — not to mention easier.

Farmium’s model is vertical, literally: Using a hydroponic tower system, so-called urban farmers are able to “plant” three or four items upright, cutting down on the amount of space needed.

It’s the “only viable” solution to have food shipped in from around the world, he said.

“Think about how far what you’re eating has to travel to get to you,” said Canning, noting that all that shipping is expensive and cuts the nutritional value of food.

 “That’s just unacceptable in my opinion,” he said. “We’re outsourcing an economic opportunity.”

Canning’s business pitch to turn city’s green roofs into produce-laden gardens recently earned him the title of Student Entrepreneur Provincial Champion from Enactus Canada, a student leadership development organization.

He’ll compete against other student entrepreneurs next month for a chance to participate in the national exhibition in Toronto this spring.

Canning and his team have started testing their new model through Growing North, a social initiative addressing food shortages in Nunavut. They’ll soon start with a couple of pilot projects in Toronto.

“I really want everyone to start asking, ‘Why can’t we grow everything here?’” he said. “The technology is here, the need is here. It’s about time.”