Establishing Local Food Sovereignty with an Indigenous-owned Year Round Indoor Farm

Establishing Local Food Sovereignty with an Indigenous-owned Year Round Indoor Farm

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I'd like to start off within the land acknowledgement. My name is Arlene Meekis. I am a first Nations woman from Northwestern Ontario, originally from Deer Lake First Nation, and now from Wallow Gaboya. First Nation. So with that I would like to say, we would like to respectfully acknowledge that the lands on which we gather in this province exist between the traditional territories of Fort Severn in the North the Mohawks are Council of Akwesasne in the East.

The Caldwell for first nation in the South, and Shoal Lake, 40 First nation in the West. We respect the diverse histories and cultures of all the First Nations, Métis, Innu and Inuit peoples of this province. So now I will just go into a little bit about what local farm and food farm co-ops is about. So we're a member-driven provincial network with a number of different program areas. So there are co-op field schools, trade routes projects, marketing, communication services, financial and bookkeeping services and governance and development consulting. Now for myself, i've always been a real fan of the trade Routes project because our trade routes have been so integral in the development of turtle islands from pre-contact ages, and so things like Ben's project where he's going to be rebuilding some of those old trade routes me is really exciting, and so I would like to introduce Ben to you.

Because he is the reason why we're all here and just the excitement for what he's working on, and what he has, and will accomplish over the next couple of years to me is extremely exciting Ben Feagin represents the Métis Nation of Ontario regions one and as well. He has a new business startup AgriTech North. He grew up in Dryden, Ontario, and has returned home after more than 20 years away. During that time he acquired education and experience, and is bringing that experience home in full force to help resolve food and security throughout Northwestern Ontario. We are excited to have them back and hear more details about how we can all get more involved in sea with separate thrive. Then it's over to you now.

Alright. So yeah. So this is there's a preview of AgriTech North Here our tagline is better than organic, and i'll explain a little why So in a short little while here There we go awesome so here's here's my contact information in case you want to get in touch later.

I'll also show it again at the end of the presentation i'm not alone in agrtech north. My fiancee, Fabian Villaz also works with us on the growing side, and then Sam Samantha Allen is our farm manager, and we'll introduce them a little bit more later. In the presentation. this is my background or my my education background.

Rather, I got a master of science in urban ecology for the center for architecture, science, and Ecology of Runs Layer Polytechnic Institute. That Labs headquarters is in New York, New York, or Manhattan, and I also study at the Lighting Research Center in Choi, New York. I originally got my bachelors back in Vancouver, Bc. In fine Arts funny enough in theater design production it's a classic route towards architectural lighting design. So it Immediately after that I got picked up by architectural and engineering firms to do custom controls and lighting. During my time in my graduate studies I automated Greenwall system.

This is a 285 plant. system. that I designed the automation and controls for and it's in the public safety Answering center in the Bronx. So it's a redundant call emergency call center in the event of a bioterrorist attack. They actually seal this building off so there's no airflow in or out to protect the occupants. And so you can continue to work as an emergency call center. And the plants essentially have an algorithm in them that's in my thesis that allows it treats the building essentially as a submarine. They can tell you how long the people have to survive with the oxygen They do have some

oxygen reserves, but they run out after a period of time, and the plants can keep X number of people alive indefinitely, or extend that period of time. You know, depending on on how many people are in the building in the time. So i've done like life safety systems before it's this is how it started. So this is the prototype, Essentially, where we were testing a lot of different control algorithms and hardware solutions and automation.

I spent a lot of time with this wall. Is it a long graduate study? This is what it kind of looks like. in the afternoons to be able to get supplemental late, because this is a atrium space. but it didn't provide really enough solar exposure where we were because the atrium is like 3 stories tall. So we also had supplemental lighting, just like in Psac. 2 the call center. And so this is our lab. So I oversaw chemistry laboratory that I converted over into a biological and aerosols laboratory. So in the background you see our backup plants there.

So I had a secondary system I built into the lab so that way, if anything failed in our experiments, live like could replace them with plants. we had in the lab. I also worked with over 50 students at varying levels of education to lead them in getting involved in the research that I was doing so. I worked with a number of engineers and architects and software developers, things like that in order to design and a number of different additional technologies.

I have a visual disability, so I also need light When I sawder and things like that, I use these microscopes so generally my work benches are always equipped with magnifying glasses, and this is the sensor system that we also develop. So this is an air quality sensor network that you can stick in your backpack. It has a Battery pack under the LCD. There. and you could essentially walk around like on a New York subway and take air samples in your from your backpack.

And essentially Geo position. All the data so you can tell in real time, like what the air quality is in any particular area. You'd be surprised how terrible a manhattan underground air quality is. But that's what that's what kind of brought me to where we are today. I'm More on the technology innovation with some growing experience in the green wall, and such. But fabian in particular is is the one that's that's doing the majority of the crop planning because he's been growing since he was 7. We've already been hosting a number of news outlets There's a number of others that you'll be hearing about us through over the next couple weeks.

We We're super excited, as well to be a contestant on the bears layer, so that will air between September and December, and it is specifically for indigenous businesses and it's sort of like a dragons down. but it's not so aggressive so it's more. All of the judges are there to support indigenous business, so none of them are trying to vie for a percentage of your business. Its cash prizes. so it's a very different environment. it's very different show. than what was expected. So it was really positive experience, for everyone in involved My arrow keys decide to stop working sometimes. There we go. So we're also members of a number of different organizations, local food and farm co-op. Of course we've been working with lfc funds spring.

It was our first contact there back in January of last year, and so she was critical in the development of our business plan, because we did 6 months of market research with her. Like reviewing all these really in-depth reports that Lfc. Have access to for the membership that really give a really good idea of what's going on in the Northwestern Ontario food security space. and so but it took it took months to get through a large bulk of it and we still haven't went through all of it it's It's crazy. How much information there is and so but that it's been critical to establishing who agricultural is today.

This piece here. and you know some food co-op is a new co-op that i'm a founding number of I'm. Currently also a board member and secretary of and There's 5 others that are part of this Bobby power of Paris jars. Bobby Turpin of the pure Blend Natalie Well, neck of Busters Barbecue and Brent Kado of Northwest beef those the founding board members. And so we're still developing this we're on the cusp of opening membership, and and this is where agricultural is essentially combining forces with the rest of the food industry to try and and make a larger food food economy shift in that before before the wasn't a year-round source of fresh produce in our region. And so it changes the market opportunities for other industries too, like beef like they can't fulfill year-round contracts without the help of imports from a distributor. But now we can't and so it changes the dynamic around around the food economy.

Now that we have a year-round source of produce from architect North. Many of these other organizations also have mentorship aspects to them, or there's cohorts oriented with them. So there's a lot of different people working on this project apart from just our staff. This is a is a national effort, just admitted. someone there. So this is the crop list that Fabian is put together for us.

There is a variety of leafy greens, culinary herbs, and small fruiting crops, like the Terry tomatoes, and such. There. This is. These have been specifically selected to provide a not only variety on the plate, but also nutritional density. So what is the most that you can get out of the smallest amount of greens? Or are there There's one crop for example, the Chinese spinach or amaranth right at the top left? There that actually has a complete amino acid profile, which means that it can be a replacement to beef in your diet or meet products in your diet. So we we made sure to choose varieties. that would enable us to offer a full vegan diet. Essentially, even from our current capacity to produce, which is limited to the technology we're using we'll go into that a little bit later. So agriculture is a first of kind. Wholesale scale, year round, grow, or a fresh produce in northwestern Ontario, and we are better than organic.

And this is a question. We get a lot as to what does that mean? What is better than organic, and we have some brief statements about it on the website. But it's really not enough really just scratches the surface.

So I wanted to take this opportunity today to go into more detail about what that means. So first off, I want to make sure I express exactly what I mean by organic, because there are major differences between which country we're talking relative to. So Canadian organic is different than United States organic. So in the United States hydroponics and aeroplanics can actually be considered organic in Canada.

There's specifically excluded by one Paragraph that says that you just aren't allowed no matter what even if you use organic fertilizers? And so the Canadian organic system is actually quite different from the United States in that sense. And so better than organic is the where this claim comes from is is really the following lines: And so as far as water use, you require a substantial amount of water in conventional and organic farming, because because you're saturating soil, and you have evaporative loss and things like that, whereas agricultural system we use up to 90. Some say 95% less water, as far as waste water. Waste also contains in the case of conventional, organic, and agricultural will contain nutrient runoff, and and so conventional and organic, has to oversaturate soil essentially in nutrients in order to in the hopes that the plant will uptake it, but most of it is never uptaken by plants, and it becomes runoff from farmland. So in comparison. agricultural we recycle the water over and over for over a month, and it's also on city sewer system. So is treated even after it's been recycled for over a month.

So not only has it been by by and large process by the plants, and and there's almost no nutrients left in it. But what is left in it is also going through city treatment system. So there's it's far less negative impact to the environment than either conventional organic through water waste phosphorus runoff is a really big problem. It in our particular region. Lake of the woods is having major problems with phosphorus runoff like there's whole public consultations and trying to figure out what to do, and how to cut sources both conventional and organic are contributing to that problem so there's both conventional farms use like a synthetic phosphorus. But organic farms use things like manure, which contain high quantities of phosphorus, and so both of them are contributing to our local lake of the Woods.

Environmental issues with runoff and architect north doesn't, plain and simple nutrient use conventional organic again have to saturate the soil not only in water, but in nutrients and hopes that is uptaken by the plants whereas architect north We don't we? Don't want to saturate soil base for a soil-free operation. And as a result we use 60% less nutrients than the alternatives for nutrient type. This one requires some explanation, so I have a follow up slide to it. Conventional, is allowed to use synthetic, of course, but Canadian or Canadian organic generally says, naturally derived. But generally this is also synthetic and the reason why and i'll explain why. The generally, if you use manure for example there's no control upstream to say that the animals from which the manure came can't eat conventional conventionally grown feed, and as a result it's synthetic nitrogen that's passed to the manure and more than 60% of that synthetic fertilizer is passed to the manure.

It never actually gets digested and so do what's in the manure is actually a synthetic nutrient, even though it's an organic maneuver. And so that's why? I have that synthetic with a star with a source for that agricult North uses synthetic, and i'll explain a little bit why that's not as big of a problem as you think It is generally the generally the organic argument, and is that is that the runoff from the farm is causing big environmental damage, and it causes soil erosion. But because we're a soil-free operation and the nutrients don't don't have the same runoff potential as in a soil based farm. It's it doesn't there's not really the argument for an organic fertilizer in the scenario.

So Fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides are the next 3 both conventional and organic, are allowed to use all of those, and do But in agriculture we don't we have a completely enclosed environment, controlled environment. agriculture, and and I'll explain a little bit more. I'll show you what that looks like but we don't need any of those as far as carbon footprint conventional is, of course, large. The larger reliance on synthetics creates a bigger carbon footprint, because they're they're expensive as far as the carbon footprint is concerned, to manufacture and the impact on the land as well creates a large impact. Both conventional and organic farms, however, used large machinery to be able to harvest so things like that so organic sells a medium footprint whereas agriculture North has a small one in comparison, because we require no large machinery. As far as land use is concerned, so what's harvested generally in conventional farms for 5 acres would take 3 times that much in an organic farm, so it requires 15 acres to grow organic which you can grow conventionally with only 5 acres this is such a big problem that there's several studies out that have shown that there's not enough arable land in the world to feed people a completely organic diet.

So organic has to be priced as a premium item in order to make sure that too many people don't eat it because it's unsustainable for the plant at our current planetary population. So in comparison, agricultural uses point 0, 5 acres, or about 2,000 square feet to grow. What conventionally would take 5 acres so we're talking about, you know less than a tenth of a percent. So all these factors combined is why we're better than organic. So night people always come back to nutrients. So I wanted to just point this out a little bit more, that this is like one of the common. This is how, if missing patient propagates this is an article that's online that has no scientific preferences.

But it's kind of like repeating the repeating the the language of conversation, but it's it has. No, they're not providing any essentially scientific articles, but the judge dialogue around organic fertilizers is that the nitrogen of nitrogen and phosphate-based synthetic fertilizers leach into groundwater again we're not worried about that here, because we're not soil days right, or that they damage the natural makeup of the soil organic whole thing in Canada specifically is that you must be a steward of the soil. that is like the the big tagline is how they excluded iroponics and aeroplaneics specifically in Canada. But organic only stewards to soil for themselves and so they're not, and they're using fertilizers that are not following the same principles that contain synthetics. And so there they're not making a positive they're neutralizing. But there's no positive impact on the other side you as opposed to agriculture, which which does have positive where actually carbon sink.

So let's define the problem a little bit like what's underlying the reason that we did all this, and went this far. So being indigenous this is this is a issue that's close to me. And what's what's striking is that you know in our rule and remote communities. A household will spend more more than 50% of their household income on groceries alone, and it won't include fresh produce because it's too expensive. It'll just be canned or box food whereas in our roadway communities.

We'll only spend 10 to 15% and we're still complaining, of course, about food prices. And that includes fresh produce the quality isn't great. But but that causes many people in railway communities to think that they don't have a food security problem when you bring something home from the grocery store like in dryden here. it'll go bad the night after or the day after. that's a food security problem, it's just. we've grown accustomed to it in in our local economy or because we've been living here so like people

have been living here so long but it's not normal in in bigger urban areas or closer to urban centers. They don't. have That problem and our selection here is very low like. So when you go to the produce aisle you you know you may have, you know, 10 different selections of other leaf, like different kinds of greens in urban centers.

It's like 10 times the size. like you have you have so many options, and and that affects your quality of life that affects your nutrition. And so these are. These are a number of things that have come up in our investigation during our 6 plus months of market research that we did with the Lfc. So this really underpins our social mission our social mission is to lower fresh produce costs in far north indigenous communities by 25%, and increase access and availability to fresh produce communities that don't already have it this is a complicated issue agricultural can't do this along, and the reason being is that we have a lot of people, but spread out over a huge geographic region larger than most States, and there's not a lot of infrastructure. So most of the far north communities are flying only And so we really can't talk about this issue in Northwestern Ontario. In regards to food security without talking about distribution. These are inseparable issues in the North.

And I often find that conversations have to pitch inhole themselves in order to and you know, if you talk about food security, you talk about food. If you talk about distribution. Oh, that's a separate silo but these really can't be silent issues. You really got to talk about them together? and we have. We have a number of solutions in this area and a number of collaborations.

We're working on to do first of kind solutions that'll have the cost of flying into foreignized communities, and we'll be releasing a lot of additional media in regards to that in the very near future. We're launching some pilots in the next month. So, in addition to having a social mission and being a social enterprise. we're also registered as a beneficial Corp or B Corp. Anyone can say they're a social enterprise and not do anything, and there's no one holding that organization accountable. And so it's a really loose marketing term I wish there was more regulation around it. But there's just simply not beneficial corpse On the other hand, you have to actually ratify your mission statements or your your objectives into your articles of incorporation, and you have to report on them every year so they become part of your annual reporting to your stakeholders? So our 4 pillars that we chose you don't have to have 4. but that's these are the 4 we chose is food accessibility, which is the social mission I just went over with you education, sustainability, and workplace

diversity, equity and inclusion so i'll go into these a little bit. So for education, we're actually working on on integrating year-round indoor farming into our education system. We're developing curricula for it have letters of support, and you know, approvals to move forward with the elementary level.

New prospect talks are there, their team there, but this new prospect elementary. I tried in high school. The eagles go eagles and canora jail. We are doing recreation programs for low-risk and incarcerated, and are working on discussions towards the path of posting cars, or Asian Pass to the freer And so these are kind of our 3 levels now, but we're also looking at potentially doing like a college level in town as well. Especially if community members are joining us from a ruler remote community, where they can be training with us, but also be getting credit at the same time for a college level course. So we're just working on the structure of that now for sustainability.

I have actually examples of this with me. and so for sustainability. This. This is a hot topic. So if you have a compostable coffee cup, you would assume that you could just put it in your backyard compost right? And I did for the longest time but actually you can't so compostable has multiple layers of ratings, and so general, if it says biodegradable or compostable generally it requires an industrial facility to apply a lot of heat and pressure to force it to break down. It's almost as if it's like seeing recycling the only international standard for compostability that says that it will break down within 16 weeks in your backyard compost is this certification in the middle Okay, compost home inside of Austria it's the only one in the world. So if you don't see that certification it's not actually compostable at home.

And so we have a number of different the issue with this particular certification. is that There's not a lot of companies with solutions to it in Canada. Specifically there are so Europe has so many it's crazy but here in Canada.

We've been slow to uptake environmental solutions despite the dialogue being very heavy in compostable I'm. Part of the Cpma which is the produce Manufacturers Association, and they even have a division specifically for packaging. And they're still talking about recyclable plastics like the compost ability is not even on their radar for packaging, because the single-use plastics, regulations that are coming into effect once again exclude fresh photos. And so farmers continue to get exclusions from how to worry about their packaging, causing environmental issues. And this food product that we're sending to far north indigenous communities or rule and remote communities. Even Dryden don't have the facilities to recycle or to compost the way that it needs to be compassed in an industrial facility.

We just don't, have it we don't have this kind of infrastructure, and so it just piles up fills our landfills, and or if if we don't have a landfill in many rural remote communities don't I just ends up on the land in a pile feeding the eagles or or the bears which causes a whole other set of issues So this is like one of the like we're trying to ban shopping bags, for example, like if you go to some stores like they don't even have bags at all anymore. But they're they're literally compostable options that they're just choosing not to use for whatever reason. and so our hope is to make to films and bags and and compostful punnets that are also have a wet rating to them available from the one-stop shop where you can get all of these items and or have us co-pack for you, using a completely okay compost home line of product. And so this will be a first of kind in Canada. And it includes labels, too, so there are labels that are fully composed. Well, including the adhesive there's always that hesitation And so that these are the kinds of things that we're working on now, and we're trying to frame out a couple of grant applications, because the equipment to do like top seal packaging and things like that so expensive So so we're working on a first of kind co-packing center.

Grant application that'll allow essentially farmers to send their product in bulk to our facility, and then have it packed for them. Essentially in like top Seal packaging for example, or with appropriate labels and things like that, because topsial packaging. for example, take do one Punnett size like just to do this. Size it's like a underground and so and then you may have like 5 different product sizes. Right, so it can get expensive, so that's what we're kind of moving towards as well in another area. We're also doing energy. So before this I worked at the Department of Energy for Pacific, Northwest National Lab on the advance lighting team there. And so I was a research scientist, and I invented apparati that were that allowed us to answer research questions that could be answered any other way.

And so energy is, is is definitely one of my focus areas, and many times growing in the North has been assessed by actually academics that have looked at, for example, is greenhouse technology viable in the far North. And generally they always come back negative, because they look at it from a very siloed approach. They come up with all these controls and just look at the envelope. For example, it's not going to work with just the envelope, because the energy to do year-round growing energy is like the biggest problem and so we're

looking at innovative energy solutions, sustainable energy solutions that are going to allow us to increase the economic viability. In the Far North when we combine technologies. so a novel envelope with a novel energy source and you solve multiple problems at the same time. And then, as assessed that which is it done on an academic level? They are very siloed in academics, much like in large corporations, and so we're solving that problem by by looking, by combining these technologies at our facility or facilities in the future. This, for example, is an example of a solar tri-generation system.

It'll be a first of kind and controlled environment agriculture. Which includes greenhouses and vertical farms. You get not only energy, but you get heating and cooling out of it as well, which is actually twice as valuable as the energy alone. With this we can reduce our costs produced by over 20%. Just significant. It makes our leafy greens competitive on the wholesale market with like large players.

And so it's a significant shift for us and it'll make a significant shift for the rest of the industry, food or otherwise. So this is what that looks like, so it's essentially a solar panel with a radiator in it. And there's on the right is essentially a ccan with condenser units, and those are largely unpowered passive press processes to convert heating in the summer to cooling for example, so for workplace, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We hire predominantly diversity candidates with specific emphasis on indigenous stuff. Right now we are a 100% diversity candidates as we grow. Let me shift around but we're holding true to our our de and I policy as we move forward.

So let me talk a little bit about this system as well, because I haven't really spoken enough to the technology that we're using. So the this is a pilot facility that we're working on. We can produce 450 kg of the of leafy greens, culinary herbs, and small fruiting crops every week, and that's enough for 4 to 500 families in perpetuity. If they cranes every week, or if they eat what we produce every week, and so it's a substantial amount. But it's nowhere close to meeting the needs of all of Northwestern Ontario.

And that's why this is just a pilot and So the intention is to eventually be validating technologies and combinations of technologies. So our crop listing is still incomplete for example, we don't have normal size fruiting crops like regular tomatoes or cucumbers, or gourds things like that and so it's incomplete. And so the point is to be moving towards multiple growing technologies. We don't sell technology where a service provider that helps that helps rule in remote communities.

Evaluate these technologies for themselves by working with them, and then helping them choose which technologies are best for the crops they want to grow for their community where they're in control of their own food security and sovereignty we just help make their appropriate choices and design the facilities that way it's capable of growing with the intend to grow food. or otherwise. So i'll show you what that would looks like a little bit more in their future. Here. This particular technology in our pilot is a comp is a drip hydroponic system, and it's a combination between hydroponic and aeroplanic. What I call a hybrid. But the reason being is because hydroponics, your roots are suspended in in water and aeroponics. Your research system in air. In this case the towers are vertical, and the jeephydroponic system is saturating a wicking strip down the middle. so the roots are kind of in the air. But there is a saturated wing strip there as Well, so it's kind of a mix of both.

But that helps control things like root rot which happens when the roots are too saturated and mold and miltu growth gross and and such. So we've we've we've found a lot of financial interest from the private sector. in this project food is notoriously capital intensive. So when we put forward applications often we get like really weird responses, because because the size of the applications we are not, like most other industries, Food in particular, requires an immense amount of capital to start, and to expand, and the margins are low, so it's not an industry.

You necessarily get into to get rich go with a service industry or something like that, or maybe lighting. But food in particular is is often a race to the bottom. Industry. People say they're willing to pay more for sustainable products, or or things like that. But the studies don't, really translate to consumer behavior in the store when they're presented the choices without anyone intervening with a survey. And that's a so that we we acknowledge that, and that's often why we have to keep that in consideration when we're when we're pricing things so we have been offered equity equity investment multiple times over the past year and we've turned them all down.

And here's why, this is a report that came out facts and figures about Canadian greenhouse vegetables. The most important part for me is that is this statement where it says that more than 70% of Ontario greenhouse produce is exported in the to the Us. That's crazy. We have a food security crisis and over 70% of what we crow in Southern Ontario along the green belt. All those greenhouses and all that growing capacity. The large majority of it. doesn't even stay in Canada and these organizations are soaking up the large majority of the funding for food production. And what an equity investor told me well that's because that's where the money's at when you dig at who owns these screenhouses, most of them if not all of them have equity investors and on some level which are pressuring them to get the most amount of money they can for their product, which is from food processors in the States which turn around and sell us a premium process.

Product And so we also have been told by one of our membership organization that has always been done that way, because those organizations in Southern Ontario generate the largest farm gate receipts which they use as a metric to determine how successful their funding is. So then there you are, using profitability as a metric which isn't indicative of resolution of food insecurity. So the the whole way of metricizing how we spend our money, and where it's best spent is slanted in the opposite direction of food security. which makes it incredibly difficult for an organization like us to expand or maintain operations when the when the the focus is essentially in the opposite direction. And so this was the original building that we were proposed by the city of municipal property. Because there was, we heard reports that there were significant quantities, not significant quantities, but there were surplus properties in in the tens that were available around the city of Dryden.

This one in particular will me toward through It looked so because there there's almost no supporting structure inside. It's like steel and so we ended up with the support of the city of Dryden. Through the community improvement program. we're able to acquire it for 6060% less than listing price, because they, too, believed in the food security mission that we had presented as part of agricultural operations. And and so, thanks to the city Council we are we started renovations, and we've put in for example. We had to spray fall in the entire roof. We had to put in additional installation. we're using the building materials that were on site. Essentially we're moving building materials around, but reusing all the materials that are there, not only because construction costs are actually the material cost is very expensive right now, but we're also like Fabian and I are doing manual labor to take things apart that would usually not be worth the time.

So that way we can reuse the materials on the site some other way. We're trying to do sustainable development in addition to In addition to saving costs, and sometimes that means paying a little bit more for something that's sustainable, and that's fine. So we also reframed. everything did in budget strapping.

And these you start seeing these panels go up. So essentially the We also got an apoxy floor that's rated for food food locations, and this is kind of what the finished product is starting to look like. This is a picture taken yesterday. and so and and there's the rest of this week they're putting in the finishings are gross system gets delivered today at 3 P. M all next week will be putting in the growth system, and then the week after that we start seating.

And so the The point here is that this is a completely sealed box. Nothing gets sand. nothing gets out ideally, so we Have the way that we deal with the potential for pests Is we have protocols where you have to like. put on a suit, and in order to you can't bring it you can't just walk in with your street boots and your street clothes, you actually go through a process. You change and then you can go into the grow rooms that doesn't necessarily mean you're gonna eliminate every potential pest. And so we have predatory pests essentially, and we have little colonies that we keep alive, that we feed, that only eat other pests.

And so, if a pest does get in we have a colony of insects that will eat that pest and and that's how we control for the potential pest intrusion, despite all of our efforts integrated pest management plan essentially assumes that you can never completely a 100% guarantee that there will never be a pest. And so you should always plan or how you're going to deal with them. once they get in. We've just made a best effort. to make sure that we do everything that we can to keep them from getting in, and that we know how to deal with them afterwards. And so, when I mentioned that this is a pilot facility, this was our original plan was for a larger scale facility. But when you are a startup and he's asked for $20,000,000, funders can't laugh at you, And so we had to back up and do the pilot first, the pilot is about a one and a half $1,000,000 project, but it's. we are currently in the process of getting that solar tri-generation system which will make it a $2,000,000 development. This is is $20,000,000, plus and because it involves a district heat, power system, and another a number of other capabilities.

But this is a first of kind. prototype greenhouse infrastructure that outperforms glass in every way, including price the first time. It's probably not going to be cheaper because there's going to be a lot of we have to there's no one in North America that knows how to work with it, because it's a brand new material to our industry and i'm very excited to have the potential to work on this project And and hopefully hoping that we can bring this to a grant application near you. Soon. it's not in the granting pipeline yet, because we're wrapping up our other innovations around our pilot facility first, and i'm hoping that by around spring of next year that we have this fully quantified as far as what our overall budget is.

But the significance of this is that, it's going to significantly increase the economic viability of similar facilities in the far North, where, avoiding heavy building materials like glass and concrete, this material can literally be rolled up and shipped on a plane. And so it is so far more viable for a far North community to fly it in than planes upon planes upon planes of class. Which is incredibly expensive. and so it completely changes that I dynamic of growing in the North, and it shows a lot of promise. So i'm super excited to the potential that it might bring So I I just want to also wrap up here with call to action. I hope that you get involved. Every purchase that you make from agrotech mores ensures that we can grow to beat this rapidly accelerating food.

Insecurity issue throughout our region. it's only going to get worse. There are already reports all over. the news about how food Costs are going to Skyrocket even in the summer, in the heat of the conventional season. It's going to get way more expensive for food and so This is an urgent matter like this is an urgent issue, so the more you can buy direct direct from us direct to consumer sales accelerate our development of matching funds that we need for our next phase of development. The solar system, the larger scale, greenhouse, and that larger-scale greenhouse isn't, just to expand capacity to expand variety, provide 10 more options of different growing technologies that all have different capabilities to produce cucumbers, tomatoes gourds root crops, all different kinds of things above, and beyond what we're already growing. And then, if we do, if, when we do get the larger greenhouse infrastructure, we'll convert our pilot facility over to mushrooms, we also have a way to illustrate how to grow mushrooms as well in communities We just want to keep those separates because spores have a tendency to want to float around. We don't want them getting into the greenhouse. So we are currently working on establishing distribution locations in remote communities, or even in our roadway communities that our community owned.

So the point here is to increase foot traffic to community storefronts that are already staffed. Help increase their their revenue as well. before we go into and commit to larger quantities of our product being landing into like a larger big box store. So if you have an idea for a community owned storefront that's already staffed that's convenient for your community, get in touch, because i'm ready to integrate those locations into into our e-commerce platform. One way to report that capability is local food and farm co-op is currently working with us on a survey. That's currently active. We really need more remote communities especially far North.

Indigenous community participation to really get a better idea of those community owned stores, and what your needs may or may not be, and what you're looking for, or what's what may not be useful to you please take a minute to complete the survey. our lean's gonna drop the link into the chat here for everyone, and and I would encourage, even if you're in a roadway community, we can always use more responses to get more significant results. You know, statistically speaking, but especially if you're in a remote community. Please please take the time to fill out the survey. So our soft opening is also coming up. So, as I mentioned next week, we were installing our grow system. So Easter Monday, which is Monday, april the eighteenth from 10 o'clock A. M. To 4 P. M. Central Standard Time. We will be doing tours of the facility.

I will also periodically be carrying my phone with me with, like a Facebook livestream. So so that way people who are remote can also participate in a tour I may not be addressing who's on the phone directly, but at least you'll be able to participate in the tour and hear me speak and hear questions and things like that and hear what's going on not everything is going to be done in this time. So if you're a local and you've seen our building recently. Yes, it's not going to be done. in time for April the eighteenth, but the gross system will be in and the plumbing will be in, and the control systems will be in the thing is is once we start seating which we plan to do after after soft opening, we can't have the public through anymore, without without going through an extensive training and and procedure to suit up, and everything to avoid bringing pests into the space. And so so this is an opportunity for the public to be able to walk through the facility, and not just have to look through one of the windows that we left.

So people could still you could still come by and look through the window and see what's going on inside. But that's not nearly as exciting as being able to be in there. So April the eighteenth we're also in the process of launching our e-commerce platform. So We're gonna be launching pre-sales in the next week, or anything, and I think it'll probably be Tuesday of next week. So the first thing the only thing that'll be available from agote Norris initially will be a food subscription box. It'll probably be the only time we do fixed term subscription boxes of 12 weeks, for example, 6 boxes.

So a box every 2 weeks, because the expected life of the products is about 2 weeks, because it's freshly harvested as opposed to one day from the grocery store. So we're going by by weekly boxes there's a $25 single person box $50 couples box or a $75 family box along the way, as we proceed. The only thing that's going to really be ready right off the top is leafy greens, because they're so fast to mature as we proceed from box to box. There's going to be new plants reaching maturity that are going to be fresh additions to the box.

So we want to give everyone 6 weeks 6 boxes over 12 weeks to give everyone the opportunity to experience the variety and not just get the first box, and then only be green to them, and and and not be completely satisfied. And so these prices the price point for everything is in line essentially with grocery store prices. So you don't have to choose between better than organic and price. You could have what's better than the grocery store at the same price. and that's what we're all about And so after, after about once once more cops come to maturity, and we have a bigger variety, we'll have a store.

The storefront of individual products will open up like this and then you can choose and select what you'd like to have week to week. You can even add them to your subscription box and customize your box and know exactly what you're going to get in every box just initially when we first kick off. It's very reliant on what matures first we're going to have a limited product offering in the first couple boxes. But then, you know, as time progresses, we get wider and lighter forieties. So. Yeah, that's it for my presentation if you thank you so much for coming.

I would love to hear questions i'm gonna i'm gonna pull up the chat here. I'm also gonna go to my contact card let's see what we got. Thank you so much, Ben. There was a question that initially came in from Tyler, who unfortunately had to leave.

But he will check the recording. And so this question is, what is the nutritional value of produce that is close to expiration versus fresh produce that has spent less time off the fine, and those in the earlier part of your conversation. Of your app But yeah, he's he's giving giving me a leading question. I appreciate that, Tyler. Thank you. So the issue with buying fresh produce from gershy stores that is near the expiration date, like if you bring it home, and it goes bad.

The next day the nutritional content of that food is highly degraded. There's not nearly as much nutritional value in a near expiration product as there is in a fresh product. When you're talking about fresh produce there are several studies that are global studies around fresh produce that I can I can refer you to.

But but that is the advantage of local production, is that it doesn't spend weeks on a truck, and not only that. But the crop itself is engineered to last longer in transportation, because it's coming from mexico or California, and they don't have nutritional labels on fresh produce because they've stopped caring. About that All they care about and breed for is shelf.

Life, and that's why we have such a civic tomatoes or tasteless eggplant. And so is because it's all they're they're breeding for the thick skin that lasts longer on the shelf, and so the advantage of local production is we don't care about any of that all we care about is the nutrition. Is it an heirloom quality product? Is it is it has it been tested and if not we're we're working on a separate funding application to establish our own lab locally, because it minus 40 degree. weather tissue samples don't make It very far. And so we're trying to establish our own tissue sampling and nutritional testing capability at our own facility in a grant application in the very near future, to be able to quantify the nutritional value, of not only our products but what's the on the shelf currently in the sore and then that way we can show consumers, so they can make an informed decision about side by side comparisons you know of what's of what you're buying from the store and and what's in your backyard of agricultural.

And so that's that will that will take us some time to establish, because I still I just put out my my solar grant applications. But the lab is the next thing that we need to get in our current facility, and that's why it's going to take me some time to get to the greenhouse grant applications, because we need that lab sooner than later we are working currently on quantifying carbon footprint can specifically like in comparison to conventional and organic farms. As an industry aggregate. in in canada and We're analyzing essentially with another startup called Carbon graph, where their first paying client They're they're a startup just like us But we're analyzing essentially all of our inputs, electricity, nutrients, water, and our outputs like distribution and quantifying specifically with the carbon footprint of every product that comes out of our facility, is and then comparing that to conventional organics, so I can say definitively with with in an open manner, so with scientific literature that's open to the public as to where all those numbers came from a way way that we can actually express what the carbon footprint of every product we have is, and with the competitors are as an industry aggregate. So this is the kind of thing that these these are the advantages of local production, and and integrating innovation with your with your local production. Now, Thanks, Tyler for that question.

Awesome. thanks so much, Ben. I also see 2 we have a couple more coming in. There's one right here from Sarah do you plan to work collaboratively with your local grocery stores when selling your products. Yes, so the the community-owned grocery stores are the first in line. And the reason for that is because generally larger box grocery stores are equity owned, which means that most of the money leaves the economy in the local community. And so we are first emphasizing collaborations with Community owned storefront that has an owners at is in that community. So that way. the dollars that flow through that community storefront stays in that community, For example, some big box stores will take like it.

What I have to sell it for is about 30% of the shot of the shelf price or less, which means that 70% or more of the money you spend in a big box grocery store is goes somewhere else like it goes to equity, or it goes to it, goes out of the community so that that is shocking to us, and we don't want to perpetuate that cycle. And so that's why we're focusing specifically first on community owned storefronts, because and Northwestern Ontario is really good at supporting local and staying local when we can. But I think grocery stores we haven't really had an alternative to Chris like the big box grocery stores in many of our in many of our communities. So I think this will be it'll take some time to shift to the local thing year round. Because we haven't had fresh privacy around in the past and there's not even the infrastructure to support that. So often in order to make that a possibility for community on storefronts, we often have to buy the coolers, for example, to make it possible for them to host a fresh produce product because that hasn't been available year round before great. there's some really lovely comments here from so last Smith.

So let's i'd like to invite you if you'd like to unmute and just yeah to continue the conversation. If you'd like Oh, hey, segoli how's it going? I didn't expect this, but are gonna I and it's really great to meet you. I'm doing a similar well, not a similar project project but it's It's gonna be doing a lot of the same things that you are.

So I would love to connect i'm on Manitoulin island so we're not so north. But as soon as you get on an island costs jump, right 30% you know. I'm indigenous and like 50% of the people on the island actually are are indigenous so I know being up north, going up to up north to some of the flying communities. I mean you guys don't have any of the produce we have it but it's unaffordable right.

That same same problem, though it's like it's still a food security problem. So that's we recognize that Yeah, it needs to be affordable to be to to be food secure. That's part of food security right and so what we're doing is we want to do greenhouses in that, too, and we're finding you guys have done so much research. I mean we're having trouble finding you finding the research that can do in all year off-grid kind of situation.

So we're working with an energy company called inersion and we're doing a similar similar, I don't know if you've heard of them. Yes, I know that's that's who we're working with on that's amazing. So we're scheduled for spring of next year to get our our system, and then we'll be publishing data with them. So that way organizations like yourself, like, if can. can.

We already have the matching funds for it and everything So we're just waiting on the funders. So hopefully like what we're planning on doing is immediately dropping the energy impacts. Positive and energy impacts of the operation into a publication or white paper. that also has an academic partner.

That's that is the crucial eye on on the data we're putting out. And so we're working on framing all that just I'm waiting for the funding approvals. But i'm happy to share all of our content with you on that, on our whole goal, our whole goal is not to centralize and Dryden, but to support you know more than 600 rule and remote communities throughout Canada and and so it's within our mission to to collaborate with organizations like yourselves. Definitely. Well, we'll definitely have to do that because we need more of these projects around, and not just for indigenous communities, right?

But for for everybody, because we need to you could get a handle on this stuff. But we're what our main thing is we're gonna be teaching indigenous women. How to do traditional agriculture. So oh, nice! Yeah, we should we should share curriculum and and and what's worked. What's about what hasn't because I think there's There's a lot of work to be done there because this is a whole new agriculture is like a lost art in in I know our region all right.

And so it's Yeah, I think there's a lot of work to be done. Just get to follow us. Yeah, well like doing exactly like we need the the high-tech stuff. But we also need to bring in back that you know that cultural aspect that, you know, doing all of these things you know like, we know that the kind of regenerative agriculture we're doing we know it's carbon-friendly. We know that we can be carbon sinks, and all this good. stuff. How do do we quantify it so that people understand it that's kind of where we're getting caught up right now.

So cart look up carbon graph and we're currently working on that. If you want to get involved. we are in the process of on I've been waiting for the fiscal year to start over against. They renew our internship programs. but we're in the process of onboarding another researcher that will be that will be specifically doing, you know, collecting scientific literature and populating it into carbon graphs

metricization system, And so, and and looking to put numbers on all that. So we have definitely keep in touch with that, too, yeah that's so great we should all be doing this and figuring out how? Because then, once we have, you know the the data in, and then people can look at it and go. Wow. Okay, this this makes sense in my Western kind of brain that this is, you know, this actually makes, you know, great sense. So, and we'll definitely hook up I'll put my my dates in the Thanks, Susanna, for for those comments there. Yeah, we're we're called Ga Gitigemi Gamik, We will plant lodge so we'll definitely you'll be seeing stuff from Ben and I in the future, because I already have a connection there.

So yeah. So one of. and thanks so much for Susannah for letting me jump in. So thank you That's So Great There's one last question I saw here in the chat from Susan, and then I have another one that just came from Emmett. So from Susan. would there be a separate survey for road accessible first nation communities in the Thunder Bay district? Oh, okay. So road-based communities are Are We are actually looking for pilots right now, because we have a first of kind. I have a tour. I have to go to here shortly with 3 points in space media.

We're working on funding applications. to launch a pilot that is essentially free drone, based delivery to some roadway communities that are indigenous communities. So we are in the process of launching that our first harvest is at the end of May. so like our food box, is when we do pre-sales. The first delivery will be at the end of the may and and that's essentially when we're looking at launching the pilot, which will be, we'll choose a couple communities, for they're the only ones with regulatory approval. To do an online of site drawn deliveries and they have the equipment to do fresh produce distribution, because they're currently using the same infrastructure for vaccines which has to be kept at a certain temperature too just like fresh potatoes both, heating and cooling and so this that's a potential.

I would say, reach out to me by email. I were right in the middle of our system installation, so it might take some time for me to call back and and and get back to you in this. Regard. but but but I definitely need to talk to you because Thunder Bay is within our catchment. And so we would. We would want to talk to you about potentially. a pilot from Thunder Bay to your community, for example. Great there's one last question from Emmett but Do you need to get going right away? No, no, no, Go ahead. Okay, number one more that's there. This was, What do you envision as being the biggest hurdles, making this kind of tech more accessible and fly in communities the project and model? look very good. On its face. But the gulf and infrastructure between road access and fly in communities is very substantial. So water system, integration, etc. become more and more important yeah So we're looking.

We're actually validating technologies in regards. to how to use hard water in hydroponic systems. So we're actually working with a technology manufacturer. Now that may make that possible where we can use like a well water source in a hydroponic system, and so stay tuned will have publications on things like that to try and solve this problem. We are thinking about those things we've really need our larger scale infrastructure. We really need our greenhouse to be validating a larger

2022-04-14 05:17

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