Alicia and Michael Hamilton first began indoor growing almost ten years ago, when living in St. Catharines, Ontario. With a beautiful, sunny backyard, and a milder climate, it was a great place to grow their own produce. They started with raised bed, square foot gardening, but soon found their plants scorched by all that nice sun. They needed a better way to control the growing environment. They were avid learners, so they started exploring alternative growing techniques, stumbling upon Murry Hallum’s approach to aquaponic growing in Australia. They built a small green house on their deck and set up their first aquaponic grow system, using goldfish to provide their plants nutrients. They ran this system successfully for three years straight, growing their own herbs, greens, and veggies all year long.
After their first son was born, it was time to move away from sunny St. Catharines to be closer to their family back in Guelph. Sadly, they had to dismantle their system and re-home their now gigantic goldfish family. Their new home didn’t have the backyard space for an outdoor aquaponic system, so they had a countertop system for herbs and tried their hand at a garage hydroponic system.
Life has a way of placing you exactly where you need to be, and Alicia and Michael found themselves in a community with a different definition of “locally grown.” They were used to “local” meaning the farm you drove by on the way to the market, as it was in St. Catharines, but here it could mean produce grown anywhere within 100 miles! They made a bold, life-altering decision and decided to start changing that definition.
It wasn’t an overnight process, starting NewLeaf CEA, it took a lot of research and planning, writing a thorough business plan, and securing a bit of seed capital to start turning their dream into reality. In 2018, they started out in an indoor industrial space, setting up a small vertical aquaponic system. They launched a CSA/veggie share program, serving mostly friends and family to start and eventually a few others that they met by having a table at the Aberfoyle Farmers Market. It was slow going, especially the education piece – letting people know that it is possible to have fresh, local produce all year round – but eventually they started expanding to local restaurants.
It was the beginning of 2020 and NewLeaf CEA had just finished building a new horizontal, vertical aquaponic grow system, using Nutrient Film Technology, that would allow them to serve their ever-growing wait list of restaurant customers, when COVID-19 struck. As we all remember, everything stopped and locked-down, including NewLeaf CEA. Unfortunately, this meant ceasing production and pulling out of their grow space.
With every sudden life change, opportunity exists, providing you are willing to look for it. For NewLeaf CEA it meant another bold life-altering change. With the support of their mentors, they jumped their company plans several years into the future and decided to begin consulting, installing, and supporting individuals, organizations, and companies who wanted to grow indoors themselves. Rather than being the indoor growers, serving the local community solely through their own efforts, they were now helping others by increasing the indoor growing capacity of the local community and increasing resilience, education, and food security.
NewLeaf CEA is filled with hope and excitement as we all move forward toward a stronger, greener and fresher, future.