GoodLeaf Farms Uses Innovative Tech to Grow Leafy Greens

GoodLeaf Farms’ new growing facility in Calgary offers sustainable and innovatively produced greens from within the city limits.

Illustration by Gust of Wind Studio.

Last November, a new brand of locally produced leafy greens hit the shelves in Calgary’s major grocery stores.

GoodLeaf’s romaine lettuce, baby spinach, pea shoots, micro-radish and micro-arugula aren’t anything out of the ordinary, but they are produced using innovative technologies such as automation and data analytics.

The Nova Scotia-based company produces hydroponic veggies that require significantly less water and energy than a conventional, open-field crop. To scale their production of high-quality, nutritious greens, and to expand their operation to Western Canada, GoodLeaf Farms constructed a bespoke, $56-million facility in Calgary’s southeast, with monthly production expected to reach 75 tonnes.

“It’s exciting for us to be able to offer a local alternative for leafy greens, which just hasn’t been readily available,” says Juanita Moore, vice-president of corporate development at GoodLeaf Farms, noting that a significant portion of Calgary’s produce is currently imported from Arizona and California. “Out West is a huge market that we want to be able to access and reach. If you look at both food service warehouses and the grocery chains, their main hubs are in Calgary.”

Designed by Riddell Kurczaba Architecture, the state-of-the-art building creates the ideal conditions for quick-growing vegetables to thrive.

About 50 per cent of the 96,000 square-foot warehouse is a highly controlled environment dedicated exclusively to growing leafy greens. The remaining half of the building is used for support services such as administration, seeding, processing, packaging and shipping, as well as space to accommodate the mechanical components essential to the operation of a hydroponic farm. This isolated layout, which reduces the probability of potential contaminants entering the growing area, is part of the reason why GoodLeaf is able to mitigate common challenges other vertical farms experience, such as pests and plant pathogens, in addition to operating practices related to sanitation, water treatment, QA-testing methods and other safeguards.

A 40-foot-high ceiling in the growing area allows for various arrangements of the smart, stacked trays where the hydroponic vegetables grow using automation technology from TruLeaf, GoodLeaf’s parent company. To accommodate the specific requirements of the vegetables produced here, the benches that carry GoodLeaf’s adjustable trays of seeded plants are stacked in levels that hold the LED lights and irrigation systems, while a series of sensors and cameras monitor each plant to ensure optimal growing conditions at all times — even when outside temperatures plummet.

Currently, the company is testing artificial intelligence at its facility in Guelph, Ont., which is expected to reduce risk and optimize product quality by analyzing the unique conditions and nutrient mix each plant requires, meaning even smarter, fresher greens will soon be reaching the plates of Calgarians.

Learn more about the people and organizations moving Calgary forward with Avenue's Innovation Newsletter.

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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