Test Companies realize that with a structural solution for agricultural dust and skins they are better off for the future

Jon Cleveland in his ‘bunker’ — a basement space where he grows greens for salad mixes. (Submitted by Jon Cleveland)

I am originally from New Brunswick, where I grew up on a farm. After going to art school and moving around the country, I ended up settling in Montreal eight years ago and worked full-time in the arts as a lighting designer in theatre and dance. When COVID hit, I (like many other people) lost all my work. I went into survivalist mode and started to play around with growing my own food.

With over a decade-and-a-half of experience as a chef, I started a recipe depot on social media that tried to teach people how to cook food for themselves (yes, I even taught people how to bake bread). While the recipe depot started to waver, growing food for the first time in years started to develop into something further.

With a focus on short supply lines for local, fresh food I decided to start a company called BunkerGreens. The name comes from the basement where I grow the greens being similar to an underground bunker, but also because my family farm is named Bunker Hill Farm, after the family that lived there for over 100 years.

This company produces fresh salad mixes that are harvested and sold directly to consumers through the site BunkerGreens.com.

With the help of a course and consulting sessions from Chris Thoreau in Vancouver (a longtime microgreens business owner) I have been developing my growing system to try and be an example of what local food production could be. This, of course, comes with quick calls back home to the folks for advice and support. My father being a retired electrician hasn’t hurt either.

This, combined with a young entrepreneur support organization, Futurpreneur, that loaned me funds and provided me with a great business mentor, has enabled me to have all the right people in my corner. My longtime friend and all around amazing designer/illustrator Hicham Illoussamen has also been there to help me develop my brand and image in the marketplace.

I really couldn’t have asked for more support, but that’s how local businesses survive and grow. It takes a community to produce what I’m doing, and I’m always passionately aware of that. I wouldn’t be in the space I am without Leyenda and Soupson, a local dep and a local food hotspot, giving me space to further the venture. As small local business owners, we only are able to succeed with a lot of local support.

It’s been really exciting to engage with my local community by supplying fresh food that I grow and deliver personally. After living in BC for a year, I went back to my family farm to help them get their produce into restaurants and stores. It was great to be back growing things again, and I’ve always been a fan of what my father calls “grunt work” — the hands-on menial work that most people despise. I love the process and I love seeing the results. Starting BunkerGreens has been the same. The racks, I built them. The sinks and plumbing, I helped install them. The soil, I bought it and lugged it down three flights of stairs. I soak the seeds, plant them, water them, harvest them… it’s not a romantic life. It’s hard work, but it is rewarding.

Although I have been self-employed for ages, it’s been a wild ride learning how to set up and run an urban farm as a new entrepreneur. It’s been challenging, thrilling and terrifying! But it’s kept me busy through all this.

This story is part of a special CBC Quebec project Out of the Dark: Real Talk on Mental Health. Through the month of January, we are sharing stories of people trying new things during the pandemic. To submit your story, click here or fill out the form below.