In southeast Calgary, a vertical farm prepares to carry rapid-growing leafy greens to cabinets

Frozen meals firm McCain Meals Ltd. had invested greater than $65 million in GoodLeaf Meals as of 2021 and contributed to a latest spherical of funding that noticed GoodLeaf increase $150 million

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Barry Murchie describes a vertical farming facility as “a field inside a field.”

Think about a Costco- or House Depot-like warehouse, the president and CEO of GoodLeaf Farms says, with floor-to-ceiling racks, the place greens like child spinach and micro broccoli quickly develop. It’s a far cry from the rows upon rows of greens that develop in California and Arizona fields the place most of Canada’s leafy greens come from.

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And when GoodLeaf’s child and micro greens hit grocery cabinets in Calgary subsequent month, it’ll mark one other notch within the firm’s speedy progress as a number one vertical farming firm making an attempt to carry the brand new sort of farming to scale.

The vertical farming firm opened its first business farm in Guelph, Ont., in 2019 and is at present increasing into Calgary and Montreal. Services use LED lights to develop the greens on speedy timelines: its micro greens are harvestable inside eight days and child greens are prepared in 18 days, Murchie stated. Child greens grown in an open-field format, akin to arugula, spinach and romaine, take 45 to 60 days to develop, he stated.

The corporate’s new 96,000-square-foot facility, which sits inside a warehouse in southeast Calgary, will value an estimated $56 million, based on the province. (Alberta chipped in $2.73 million in grant funding for the challenge.)

When it first opens, the extremely automated warehouse will function at half capability, offering 70 new jobs to the town. GoodLeaf has left room for operations to double in measurement.

Murchie stated in an interview he’s been “pleasantly shocked” by the commitments the corporate has inked for the brand new farm, including its greens will likely be on cabinets of all main grocers in Calgary. Operations will solely increase when the farm sells out its full preliminary capability, which might occur inside the subsequent six to 12 months, he stated. When the Calgary and Montreal farms open, “an excellent share of that capability will already be dedicated.”

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“I might anticipate that within the not too distant future, we will likely be planning for additional growth.”

Murchie touts the corporate’s greens as a “essentially higher product” than its imported opponents, coming with out pesticides, extra nutrient-dense leaves and arriving at a value aggressive with imported greens.

“We’re at value parity to organics,” he stated.

GoodLeaf vertical farm
The soon-to-be open GoodLeaf vertical farm in southeast Calgary is seen on this aerial picture. Courtesy Fillmore Building Administration Inc.

Secure indoor rising surroundings seen as benefit over out of doors crops

Vertical farming additionally gives a steady year-round rising surroundings, a bonus it has over out of doors crops which could be vulnerable to a number of things akin to drought and food-borne diseases that injury manufacturing, Murchie stated.

“The know-how and the funding that GoodLeaf has made in making a nationwide community of farms actually begins to bend the curve of provide, from import dependence to home confidence.”

McCain Meals Ltd., the place Murchie labored for 25 years, has been a major investor in GoodLeaf’s operations. Since 1994, he has labored for the corporate in government roles in Japan, Singapore, the U.S., most not too long ago serving as vice-president of economic operations for North America.

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In 2020, he transitioned from McCain to his present function as president and CEO of GreenLeaf.

McCain made its first funding in TruLeaf, GoodLeaf’s mother or father firm, in 2018 and in February 2021 the well-known frozen meals producer introduced it had invested a cumulative $65 million within the firm. On the time, GoodLeaf had solely opened its first facility in Guelph.

If that second was a seed, the corporate planted itself in wholesome soil to develop.

GoodLeaf introduced final December it had raised $150 million following added assist from McCain and thru a brand new partnership with Energy Sustainable Lios, an agri-food-focused personal fairness funding agency.

GoodLeaf’s rapidly increasing operations will likely be Canada’s first firm making an attempt to carry indoor agriculture to scale, Murchie stated.

“GoodLeaf is the chief in Canadian vertical farming, with best-in-class business operations, industry-leading meals security practices, and a robust food-first government workforce,” Jonathan Belair, managing accomplice of Energy Sustainable Lios, stated in a press release after the capital increase.

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On the subject of leafy greens manufacturing, vertical farming could be helpful in supporting meals safety efforts, stated Alex Wilkinson, a sustainability and surroundings marketing consultant with CMR Consulting. He accomplished his PhD on the College in Calgary, the place he, partially, studied perceptions and curiosity in utilizing controlled-environment agriculture as a sustainable meals supply in Yukon.

“(Vertical farms) can produce lots of leafy greens, you simply must ensure you have the demand for them,” he stated.

One of many firm’s benefits over out of doors growers is the farm’s capability to retain the water it used, leading to 95 per cent much less water used, Murchie stated. The place water can evaporate earlier than it hits the bottom on out of doors farms, Murchie stated GreenLeaf’s Guelph farm extracts the humidity from the develop room, returning 13,000 litres of water again to the system.

“Actually, the one water that goes out of our facility is the water that’s inside the crops themselves.”

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