Tech to feed astronauts may help feed Canada’s North

We the Roots, a company co-founded by Amin Jadavji and six others in 2017 is using an east-end Toronto warehouse as a high-tech vertical garden growing technologically-produced lettuce for Toronto restaurants which may help those Northern Canadians get access to local grown produce.

The federal government has increased funding for shipping food to Northern Canada and expanded the Nutrition North program. That move comes as advances in hydroponics and LED lighting coming from research to grow food in space are expanding the prospects for northern farming.

The vertical farm of We the Roots is a commercial test for the feasibility of this new farming technology house in the former factory that is roughly 14 metres long by three metres wide and four metres tall and can house from 15,000 to 20,000 plants at a time.

The operation is hydroponic and almost entirely automated. Water in the system carries nutrients and is recycled.

Plants are nested in trays and stacked seven layers high, each one under strips of LED bulbs. The bulbs provide a tailored light combination (cool white, green, deep red, ultraviolet, far red), created to bring out specific qualities in the plants, changing their size, texture and even taste.

The system at We the Roots is the first commercial use of a concept developed by the University of Guelph in collaboration with a Norwegian company called Intravision.

The university’s Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture program, which focuses on trying to grow plants in hostile environments like space, began using Intravision’s LED lights in research. That developed into a stacked system that both light and water flow through.

Though this technology was created to help feed astronauts of the future, it may be the answer to feeding those here on Earth.

We the Roots plan to expand its Toronto operations next year. The company is also opening two new farms, one about 135 kilometres from Toronto and one in New Jersey, each of them 1,850 square-metre facilities to produce 1.3 million pounds of greens per year.

We the Roots believe that Canadian food technology could offer potential food solutions for extreme heat and cold climates and has potential investors looking to come on board.

By Jamie Barrie