From The Ground Up is a CBC series in collaboration with the Food Producers Forum that looks at how smallholders dig and dream of agricultural innovations in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s winter weather may not provide the best opportunities for growing fruits and vegetables, but a farm in Mount Pearl is bringing things in to tackle food security year-round.
Green Farm NL was launched in early 2020 with the goal of providing accessible and affordable products to residents of the province. But instead of traditional farming on acres of farmland, the farm uses indoor hydroponics to grow crops all 12 months of the year – in a warehouse in Mount Pearl.
“It was kind of just a pilot project to prove that what claimed we can produce food year-round here is actually possible,” Green Farms CEO Scott Neary said. St. John’s morning show earlier this month.
“In our first year… we were able to produce all our products all year round and we really started to get some traction.”
The project started as a business idea for Neary, who comes from a science and engineering background rather than from agriculture.
“When I was looking for a business to start, I was trying to solve a big problem. When I assessed what my home province needed, food safety was at the top of the list,” he said.
“It’s so hard to get food here … When you leave town and go to other communities, it’s even harder and more expensive.”
Agriculture has quickly grown to a staff of eight, growing herbs and greens for more than 300 families a week through home delivery.
Using hydroponics in an isolated warehouse has its benefits, he said, because it allows people to grow the crop they want at a lower environmental cost in the form of fossil fuels.
“Food production is a big part of the decarbonisation of the world. We really need a revolution in how we produce our food,” he said. “That kind of thing is consistent with growing up in Newfoundland. The lack of food access, it’s already bad enough.”
The system allows the farm to simulate optimal growth conditions through the use of artificial light and heating as well as moisture control.
“We are able to extend the growing season from just a few short months to 12 months a year, while providing consistent and optimal growth conditions for all our plants,” he said.
Neary said the extended growing season could benefit both consumers and businesses. Agriculture allows restaurants to ensure core ingredients delivered year-round within hours of harvest to customers instead of being shipped in containers from the mainland.
And he hopes it’s just the beginning, with the goal of expanding the business across the province.
“We hope that from here, now that we have proven our concept, that we are able to build a number of these farms. Not only in St. John’s metro area, but across the province and hopefully into Labrador and possibly beyond. , ” he said.
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