CitiGrow brings farm to table a small plot closer - Citigrow hosts PegCityGrub in their restaurant-side gardens.

Citigrow hosts PegCityGrub in their restaurant-side gardens.

By: Mike GreenSeptember 23, 2015 // Winnipeg in the News

The 100-mile diet has nothing on 100-block dining -- at least that's the principle behind one of Winnipeg's newest agricultural endeavours.

"What we do is take unused land and turn it into a sustainable source of food," said Dave Gingera, the founder and president of CitiGrow as he unearthed some beets for me today in their plot at Inn at the Forks.

The company was started in 2012 by Gingera while he was a university student. Originally they were selling urban agricultural products, but last year they changed the business model to micro-farms, which are now found all over Winnipeg.

The Beets by ERA salad, along with a fresh bunch pulled from the ground just minutes before (PCG)
The Beets by ERA salad, along with a fresh bunch pulled from the ground just minutes before (PCG)

"This is on the small end of what we do," said Gingera, pointing to the aesthetically-pleasing rows of vegetables being grown right in the midst of the Forks, Winnipeg's most-visited tourist area.

"We don't own the land -- it's all in agreement with independent property owners -- but it is hyper-local, hyper-sustainable.... we don't use pesticides and it's all done with natural fertilizers; it's grown to a very high standard," Gingera continued.

Last year they started with 17 of these micro-farms and they are now up to 38, the largest of which is five acres.

Despite it being late in the growing season, the Forks' vegetable garden still flaunts heritage carrots, massive amounts of mint and edible flowers, beans, plump tomatoes, a couple honeydew melons, kohlrabi and stalks that have just started to produce Brussels sprouts.

Bussels sprouts just starting to sprout (PCG)
Bussels sprouts just starting to sprout (PCG)

The vast majority of this veg will end up on the plates of some of the city's top restaurants.

"There are a dozen restaurants right now that are purchasing substantial volumes -- lots in this immediate area who've been extremely receptive of this idea," said Gingera.

These eateries include VG Restaurant at the Fairmont, 295 York and SMITH at Inn at the Forks, along with a select amount of local stores.

A few steps away at ERA Bistro sous chef Steve Strecker is a fan of what CitiGrow is doing, and he's been using their vegetables since the restaurant opened in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights last year.

"Well, you can't get any more local than directly outside -- I mean they are only 150 ft. away," said Stecker. "And they have quite a selection; its really on the higher end for quality."

The Beets by ERA salad is, minus the goat's cheese and pine nuts, completely composed of items from CitiGrow, while their grilled ratatouille sandwich -- which, for me is easily one of Winnipeg's best vegetarian sandwiches -- sings because of CitiGrow's ingredients.

ERA's grilled ratatouille sandwich (PCG)
ERA's grilled ratatouille sandwich (PCG)

This beautiful number uses CitiGrow scallop squash (aka pattypan) as a creamy base note while their parsley, which is the primary ingredient in the gremolata, rounds it with a herby, acidic element.

"Their stuff is harvested daily so you are not having that wait-time like other produce -- it's not dehydrating on the shelf and you've got that fresh from the garden taste," said Strecker.

"Their beets and squash are beautiful and we haven't found better flat leaf parsley."

The top image is of Dave Gingera picking beets.