New high-tech agri business to bring year-round growing

19-01-2022    14:21   |    CBC

CANADA, Dryden- AgriTech North will employ vertical garden technology and hydroponics to grow greens, herbs and more. A new business in Dryden, Ont., promises to bring fresh, regionally grown produce to northwestern Ontario year round, and help mitigate supply chain problems that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AgriTech North will employ vertical garden technology and hydroponics to produce leafy greens, culinary herbs and some fruiting crops, such as cherry tomatoes, in a 4,000-square-foot indoor facility, according to president and chief executive officer Benjamin Feagin Jr. 

"We're growing multiple varieties of lettuces — everything from an iceberg lettuce, romaine, Swiss chard, things of that nature," Feagin said. "And for culinary herbs, we're looking at chives, cilantro, dill ... We also have some, like I said, fruiting crops, which include a fairytale eggplant variety."

Feagin expects to grow around 225 kilograms of greens and 125 kilograms of herbs every week, he said. 

Some of that food will be sold at farmers' markets, and through retail outlets such as Maltese Grocery and George's Market in Thunder Bay, he said.

Maltese already sells produce from regional suppliers such as DeBruin's Greenhouses, and it doesn't intend to cut ties with those providers, said co-owner Lisa Maltese.

But Feagin's business offers to fill gaps in their supply chain by offering fresh vegetables and herbs in the winter, and when other suppliers can't meet all of the demand. 

"There's huge supply chain issues," Maltese said. "There's no trucks. There's no drivers for the trucks. There's no trailers to put the product in. There's picking shortages... It's as bad as people think it is. It is actually worse."

Feagin grew up in Dryden and earned an undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of British Columbia with a focus on theatre design and production. He worked in a number of lighting design roles before pursuing a master's degree in architectural and building sciences technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

He subsequently held a number of jobs involving research and technology, most recently at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Oregon, before deciding to move back to Dryden in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to be closer to family, he said.

Dryden had been researching year round growing

Arriving in town with his partner, master grower Fabian Velez, he looked for an opportunity to start a business that would combine their respective interests in technology and agriculture, he said.

"It happened to be something that I was already looking into," said Tyler Peacock, economic development manager for the city, who advised Feagin to look into the possibility of year-round growing.

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Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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