Canadian govt invests in greenhouse tech for organic microgreens
The repayable investment of CAD$640,585 was made through the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program and announced by MP Filomena Tassi on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay.
Founded in 2010, Greenbelt Microgreens grows, harvests and distributes a large range of certified organic microgreens and lettuce. The company owns two greenhouses covering 4.5 acres in an environmentally protected area near Toronto known as the Greenbelt.
The company supplies many of the major retailers in Ontario, including Whole Foods and Longo's.
Speaking to Fresh Fruit Portal, co-owner and vice president Michael Curry said there was a huge business opportunity in Canada, as around 80% of organic produce is currently imported.
"Microgreens are relatively new for the consumer. Chefs have been using them for 20 years as a garnish, but now consumers are starting to look at them as a salad offering," he said.
Among the company's product offering is a potted lettuce with three different varieties of the leafy green, and a 'spicy' clamshell mix with 60% lettuce and 40% microgreens.
"The whole idea is getting consumers to look at microgreens as a much more interesting, healthy salad," he said.
Both greenhouses have automation for the soil mixing, seeding and harvesting, and the microgreen's whole growing cycle takes an average of just 10 days, depending on the time of year.
The microgreens also have a two-week shelf life, which Curry said was a rarity for the category.
"The facility we acquired was an African violet growing facility. All the robots were in place to move pots around and put them on the rolling bench system. Now we're renovating it, putting in an Acrylite roof which lets the full UV spectrum through," Curry said.
"This gives us incredible coloration and plant health for our lettuce and microgreens."
The sunlight is due to be supplemented with LED lighting for the winter months.
He explained that the company first purchased the roofing material and then applied to the government loan program, highlighting the project would support the economy by offsetting the high import volumes of organic microgreens.
The firm decided not to go down the hydroponic route because Curry said he believed growing in the compost and peat mix led to better quality, taste and plant health.
In the future, he said the company plans to expand at its new facility and then take the unique growing model to other locations around the country.
"We are looking at several opportunities to go and produce locally in different geographical markets," he said.
"There are lots of national retailers who are keen to have the product everywhere. Canada is key focus, but going internationally is an obvious route where this could go in the future."