Seeding Change: How One Kingston Business Owner is Cultivating Local Sustainability with Indoor Vertical Farming

By: Lauren Breen
Edited by: Cynthia Stringer

In the realm of sustainability, local initiatives serve as vital engines of change. Kingston epitomizes this ethos with its thriving environmental consciousness. At the forefront of this movement stands Collective Joy Farm, a beacon of innovation in indoor vertical farming. Here, the marriage of innovation and necessity yields fresh produce within the confines of the city. In this article, I’ll dive into how Collective Joy Farm is reshaping urban agriculture, nurturing resilience, and fostering community well-being, one microgreen at a time.

Nestled at 477 MacDonnell Street, just north of Queen’s University, Collective Joy Farm emerges from the roots of a former hair salon. The location has been transformed into an indoor vertical farm and kitchen by founder, farmer, and visionary Tammara Maher. Drawing on over a decade of experience in row-based farming, Tammara’s journey toward cultivating fresh and organic food has been in motion for years. It was during her explorations in her home kitchen, growing microgreens for herself and her son, that she discovered the potential and sustainability of indoor vertical farming. 

“I started to think, well, what about in the city? Why don’t I bring my whole operation right to the city? Start growing food right in the middle of the city where I’m really close to the eaters?” 

Tammara Maher

The pandemic served as a pivotal moment for Tammara. “During COVID there definitely was more interest in local food than ever,” she says. “I was busier than ever… and I started to think, well, what about in the city? Why don’t I bring my whole operation right to the city? Start growing food right in the middle of the city where I’m really close to the eaters?”

Fast forward to March 2023, and Tammara had officially relocated. After just 3 months, she had single-handedly transformed the space and established Collective Joy Farm. Today, her business is both a hub for fresh greens and meals and a testament to the profound impact that just one dedicated individual can make.

Indoor vertical farming represents a paradigm shift in sustainable agriculture, particularly in urban landscapes like Kingston. Tammara’s soil-based method of vertical farming acts like other vertical farming models. These models optimize space and resource utilization by vertically stacking crops within controlled indoor environments.

With meticulous control over variables such as light, temperature, and humidity, vertical farming minimizes water and soil usage while removing the need for harmful pesticides. In the case of Tammara’s various types of nutrient-dense microgreens, such as radish, wasabi, and broccoli, rapid growth cycles of 7 to 10 days ensure a swift turnaround for her business. Furthermore, its year-round production capabilities guarantee a steady supply of fresh, locally grown produce, thereby reducing dependence on long-distance transportation and the associated carbon footprint.

Tammara’s objective is clear: “Our mission here is to increase access to fresh, healthy food and hopefully inspire a little joy along the way.” 

Tammara’s underlying motivation for founding Collective Joy Farm stems from a deeply personal journey. During her time as a Queen’s University student, she battled a severe mental illness during her second year. Through years of managing her illness, Tammara found solace and healing in healthy eating, structure, and nurturing relationships. This transformative experience ignited her desire to share the power of good food with others, hoping to offer the same lifeline it provided her.

“Our mission here is to increase access to fresh, healthy food and hopefully inspire a little joy along the way.” 

Tammara Maher

Collective Joy Farm extends its positive impact beyond its doors, enriching the community by supplying fresh greens to residents and restaurants. Moreover, the business offers classes and workshops to empower community members with the knowledge and skills to grow their own microgreens, fostering self-sufficiency and food security. Like other vertical farm operations, which are growing increasingly important due to environmental changes and the challenges of feeding an ever-increasing global population, Collective Joy Farm plays a crucial role in alleviating food insecurity by providing nutrient-rich greens year-round. 

Despite challenges such as the pest problems she encountered while testing out alternative hydroponic growing models, in addition to the inherent hurdles of launching a new venture, Tammara remains undeterred. Her appreciation for the resilience of farmers fuels her determination. She urges others to support local operations, emphasizing their pivotal role in rebuilding economies and fostering community resilience. For Tammara, the way forward lies in reducing reliance on external sources and nurturing local economies–and indeed must also be true for us all in striving toward sustainability. 

Grassroots sustainability initiatives come in various forms, and Collective Joy Farm exemplifies a beacon of hope in this regard. Its success in Kingston illustrates the potential of indoor vertical farming to bring fresh food to communities year-round. As a visionary concept, such operations could be replicated anywhere, from university campuses to repurposed buildings and even individual kitchens. Imagine a world where healthy foods are readily accessible; where communities unite to transform spaces into hubs for accessible fresh produce and sustainable farming, all while preserving the environment for future generations. This is Collective Joy.

Acknowledgement: This article was based on an interview with Tammara Maher, owner of Collective Joy Farm. Her enthusiasm and insights during the interview unveiled the remarkable story behind her business and the power of microgreens in repairing our food systems. Readers are encouraged to visit and learn more about Collective Joy Farm, experiencing firsthand the passion driving Tammara’s mission to provide fresh, locally grown produce while spreading joy. 

References

Collective Joy Farm. (n.d.). About Us. https://www.collectivejoyfarm.com/pages/about-us 

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2023, December 28). Hydroponics. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/hydroponics

Lone, J. K., Pandey, R., & Gayacharan. (2024). Microgreens on the rise: Expanding our horizons from farm to fork. Heliyon, e25870. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2024.e25870

Oh, S., & Lu, C. (2023). Vertical farming – smart urban agriculture for enhancing resilience and sustainability in food security. The Journal of Horticultural Science & Biotechnology, 98(2), 133–140. https://doi.org/10.1080/14620316.2022.2141666

Photo References (In order of appearance):  

Collective Joy. (2023, July 29). Microgreen Racks [Photograph]. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=761713435957888&set=pb.100063577150867.-2207520000&type=3

Collective Joy (2023, March 28) Streetview of Collective Joy Farm [Photograph]. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=680934770702422&set=pb.100063577150867.-2207520000&type=3

Collective Joy (2023, March 30). Owner Tammara Maher [Photograph]. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=682461040549795&set=pb.100063577150867.-2207520000&type=3

Breen, Lauren. (2023, February 7). Photograph of the Microgreen Racks inside of Collective Joy Farm. Author’s Collection. 

Permission obtained for image use.