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Nova Scotia food-growing startups benefit from their seaside locale

Nova Scotia food-growing startups benefit from their seaside locale

Posted by PanamericanWorld on February 27, 2017

Entrepreneur Gregg Curwin says his light-bulb moment came during a trip to Japan six years ago. The choice of words is fitting, given that he was visiting an indoor vertical farming operation where lighting figures prominently.

He later brought that technology to Nova Scotia to found TruLeaf – touted as one of the first vertical farming operations in North America. Vertical farming is a collection of technologies around LED lighting, hydroponics, seed science and controlled environments, he says. “It’s quite new to North America. I saw it as a wonderful tool to address the massive problem of chronic disease, through whole plant nutrition.”

For now the focus at the Truro facility is on micro greens and herbs, but as R&D work continues, he plans to apply it to crops such as strawberries, mushrooms, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Curwin is one of a successful group of Nova Scotia entrepreneurs who are considered world leaders in sustainable farming innovation – from micro greens to salmon to seaweed.

“People think Nova Scotia doesn’t have the groundwork for great entrepreneurial innovation,” Curwin says. “We have some focus on IT and software like every jurisdiction in North America. But with the ocean and the Bay of Fundy and the academic research, entrepreneurs have a wonderful playground to build a sustainable food-growing hub for biomass, plants and proteins. We can be a global player, because we have all we need here.”

His timing was perfect as vertical farming has exploded in recent years, he says. TruLeaf already has Loblaw as an early adopter, and is opening an additional facility in Guelph in the fall that is quintuple the size of its original plant in Truro. It is also looking at a larger facility in Eastern Canada, and possibly building three more in Ontario, Quebec and Western Canada.

Canada isn’t the only potential market. Curwin says every week groups from around the world contact him about licensing the technology. “Our uniqueness is around the design of the building environments, our plants and our safety practices. It’s great because these farms can be placed anywhere, such as places of need like the Arctic. I can see greenhouse producers converting defunct warehouse space for high-yield production. We’re super excited, but also super disciplined in making sure we go about this properly.”

Another innovator on the Nova Scotia entrepreneurial scene is Sustainable Blue Salmon. The Dartmouth-based company is perfecting a unique salt-water recirculation technology that allows farm salmon to be raised in land pens. CEO Kirk Havercroft says the technology was originally developed in Scotland by company president Dr. Jeremy Lee for use in public aquariums.

In 2005 they switched to aquaculture. “That’s always where we intended to end up,” Havercroft says. “A geographical study pointed us in the direction of Nova Scotia as the ideal place to build an aquaculture company.”

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