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Science & Tech

Five agricultural innovations in Canada

From cubic farming to vegetable fermentation, these agro-enthusiasts are forging the future of farming

  • May 23, 2016
  • 672 words
  • 3 minutes
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The big-data crop experts at Farmers Edge (read more about them in the June 2016 issue) aren’t the only agricultural innovators changing the way food is being grown and harvested in Canada. Here are five more.

Landfill gases for greenhouses
An international greenhouse company known as Village Farms is working out of Delta, B.C., (along with two other companies and the National Research Council) to increase its uses for landfill gas. After more than 13 years burning the gases produced by Vancouver’s landfills for their roughly 50 per cent methane content — to produce heat and electricity — the company is using a brand new fuel cell technology to process the landfill gas while simultaneously recovering food-grade carbon dioxide to help grow tomatoes. The conversion of methane will also produce electricity and hydrogen that can be sold commercially to BC Hydro or other markets. 

SPIN farming
Curtis Stone of Green City Acres and a number of Kelowna, B.C., residents are working together to tap into the potential of urban farming. Stone uses the front yards and backyards of other city dwellers to grow his crops — what’s called “Small-Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming.” In exchange, the landowners receive a basket of produce every week of harvest, as well as lessons in farming, if desired, and Stone sells the bulk of what he produces to markets and restaurants. It’s all part of his mission to “foster social and environmental change through the production of local food.”

High-tech cubic farming
A facility out of Mirabel, Que., is transforming the idea of agricultural space. Using a rotating mechanical system to control light, humidity, warmth and water, Urban Barns can produce high quality produce such as lettuce, microgreens and basil using 94 per cent less water than a traditional farm would to produce the same amount of food — and in a much smaller space. Urban Barns’ greens are also GMO and pesticide free, and the company uses UV lights to clean and reuse water, and has strict control and monitoring measures in place to avoid all pests.

 Vegetable fermentation
Tony Savard and his team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Research and Development Centre in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., have worked with food processing partners to develop a unique process for entirely vegetable-based fermentation for storing vegetables. Fermentation works by killing off harmful bacteria while keeping good bacteria alive; it eliminates the chances of contamination and turns stored food into superfoods for digestive tracts. This process has traditionally been used in the dairy and meat industry, and up until now, mass distributors of fermented vegetables have tended to pasteurize their produce — which allows for long term stability but diminishes overall quality and taste.

Savard and his team have studied the microorganisms responsible for fermentation, selected the best, and reintroduced them as top quality “fermenters” for use in the processing of vegetables. Additionally, while fermenters were usually powdered and mixed with a dairy base, these come from a purely vegetable-derived source, which is an ideal solution for many vegetarians and vegans.

Pollution-sponging algae
A Peterborough, Ont., startup called Noble Tech Incorporations is utilizing algae as a water purification tool. The self-described “algae farmers” have researched different algae variants and enhanced natural algae to act as “micro-sponges” to absorb pollutants in municipal and corporate wastewater. The process is being used to target phosphorus in Ontario wastewater (much of it from agricultural runoff and sewage) and results not only in reusable water but reusable phosphorus, which can be collected from the algae after the fact. The algae, in turn, can also be sold to bioprocessing plants to create biodiesel, bioethanol or fertilizers for farms. The company, currently working out of Trent University, recently announced a $20 million dollar investment for building an official plant. They hope to launch in spring 2017, and eventually process 100,000 litres of water per day.


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This story is from the June 2016 Issue

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