Ontario company makes big move into vertical farming

Billing itself as a company ready to transform Canada’s food industry, Local Leaf Farms has opened a vertical farm in Barrie, Ont., with plans to launch 20 locations across the country by the end of 2025.

Vertical farming is “always presented as the future, and I’ll state right off the top I don’t see it as the future of farming, I see it as an adjunct of farming,” says Steve Jones, CEO of Local Leaf Farms, in conversation with RealAgriculture Radio host Shaun Haney.

For those who have never heard of this type of system before, Local Leaf Farms’ vertical farming system consists of eight-foot tall towers on racks where plants are grown in a controlled environment— carbon dioxide levels, humidity, light, and temperature are all monitored. A computer based software system with sensors in the growing room provides agronomists and grow teams 24/7, 365 days a year information. (Listen in on the full conversation below, story continues after)

At this point, you may be asking how a fully enclosed vertical system handles watering. Jones says vertical farming uses 95 per cent less water than a conventional system. The municipal water system runs through ultraviolet light and an ozone treatment, then circulates through the towers with a controlled nutrient substrate, drips down the towers, and gets recycled back around.

When the Barrie location launched, Local Leaf Farms grew over 20 cultivars of crops to assist the community with the pandemic situation. Also, in the research and development phase for the location, three to four hundred pounds of produce was churned out per week. When the pandemic situation stabilizes, Jones says the company will focus primarily on leafy greens and herbs, four cultivars of each, and will be sold under the My Local Leaf brand.

Packaging is 100 per cent plastic free and fully compostable, Jones says. Harvest to delivery within 50 km to a grocery store, food service provider, or home meal kit provider, takes no more than five hours.

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