Combination of vertical farming and greenhouse cultivation for disadvantaged rural areas

“As an Indigenous-led Canadian company, our mission as a social B-Corp company is to reduce the cost of production in the Far North Indigenous community by 25%, enabling over 600 of our rural and remote communities in Canada to increase their food independence,” said Benjamin Feagin Jr., CEO of AgriTech North, a vertical farm based in Dryden, Ontario.
Benjamin Feagin Jr.

Dryden is located in northwestern Ontario, halfway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. Due to the region’s relative isolation, located in the mountainous Canadian Shield, and with its harsh winter climate, northwestern Ontario can be considered a food desert, as it is impossible to grow food year-round and the region is heavily dependent on imports. However, Benjamin and the AgriTech North team believe that vertical farming can help overcome these barriers to improve the region’s food sovereignty without destroying its natural beauty.

“We went for vertical farming because we see how food production takes up land where the forests are felled in large quantities. We don’t want to contribute to soil erosion or clear-cutting,” explains Benjamin.

disadvantaged indigenous communities
As a social enterprise with a clear vision to achieve food sovereignty for Northwestern Ontario, particularly remote and rural underserved Indigenous communities, AgriTech North aims to provide locally grown food at 25% lower prices.

Benjamin explains that lettuce that costs $2.50 in southern Ontario costs more than $10 in the far north. To expand its reach in northern Canada and bring products to more communities, AgriTech North has recently hired a Community Engagement Developer for an area larger than France.

Plans to double the area and implement new technologies
AgriTech North currently operates a 400 square meter warehouse equipped with ZipGrow towers, producing 450kg of leafy greens, herbs and fruit per week. According to Benjamin, the same harvest in outdoor cultivation would require 5 hectares in conventional horticulture and 15 hectares in organic cultivation.

This facility is just the beginning as AgriTech North also has plans to build a 10,000 square meter facility that will combine greenhouse growing and vertical farming to increase the economic viability of farming in Canada’s North. By combining innovations in greenhouse growing and vertical farming, AgriTech North hopes to grow crops that are otherwise seasonal year-round.

“Some crops, such as root vegetables, are problematic for vertical farms and are very light-intensive. But they thrive in the greenhouse. All in all, we can then grow a completely vegan diet,” says Benjamin.

AgriTech also plans to implement a system that will harvest thermal energy from the sun and/or the vertical farm and convert it into cooling, Benjamin explains. As for the greenhouse construction, AgriTech North is looking at a multi-layer inflatable construction. The material requires much less steel support than a glass construction, has a high light transmittance, including ultraviolet light, and has a superior insulation factor due to three layers of compressed air in between.

Technological advances always need to be validated before they are adopted on a larger scale, but that is even more the case in northwestern Ontario, where AgriTech North is based, and northern Canada as a whole. The region’s isolation and limited infrastructure means that all technologies must be reliable, hard to damage but easy to repair. Troubleshooting can be difficult without readily available specialized technicians, and shipping and maintenance costs can add up quickly. However, AgriTech North is taking up the challenge and is already building sustainable local food systems.

For more information:
Benjamin Feagin Jr. (MANAGER)
AgriTech North
ben@agritech-north.ca
www.agritech-north.ca

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