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Green machine

Winnipeg company builds urban gardens, pays royalties on produce sold

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press 
CitiGrow�s David Gingera holds onto produce at the Inn at the Forks� front garden, which grows corn, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cabbage and herbs.

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press CitiGrow�s David Gingera holds onto produce at the Inn at the Forks� front garden, which grows corn, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cabbage and herbs.

David Gingera would like to turn your landscaping needs into black cherry tomatoes, baby lettuce, peas, beans and even Brussels sprouts.

His startup company, CitiGrow, builds urban gardens at businesses and other properties around town, sells the produce to restaurants and private buyers and pays out a royalty to the real estate owner.

So, if you want fresh vegetables, he figures he's got just about everybody beat.

"If you buy locally grown food (from a store), it's still coming from 200 or 300 kilometres away, and it's still sitting a day before you get it. With us, it can be off the plant, out of the garden and in your kitchen within minutes," he said.

Once an agreement with a client is in place, CitiGrow assigns an urban farmer to manage the space and build the garden. (The one-time cost is $349.) Their goal is to grow as much food on the property as possible. "It's a very passive role for the property owner. When we sell the produce, we pay them a percentage of revenue. It's a passive revenue stream for them."

Gingera installed his first urban garden in June and has grown that to 17. His goal is to double that figure by next year and also expand into other cities across Canada.

One of CitiGrow's biggest clients is the Inn at the Forks hotel. Ben Sparrow, its general manager, said it had been trying to grow its own herbs and vegetables for years but it never worked out like he had hoped. "All we could achieve in 10 years was herbs that surrounded our patio. Our chefs would come out and pick them. Because of the labour costs and quality of vegetables that we wanted, we found going with CitiGrow was the only option for us for growing our own vegetables outside our front door," he said.

He means that literally as its garden is just steps from the front entrance.

Growing fresh vegetables on the property makes sense on a number of different levels, he said, including not having to maintain the garden anymore and satisfying the demands of customers who are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from and where it's grown.

Sparrow said he realizes there will be some theft, but he's hoping it will be minimal at a 24-hour hotel.

"Theft won't ruin the ideas, and it won't destroy our initiative," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2014 B1

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