A potential backstop to 'the next Black Swan event,' the largest vertical farm in Canada opens in Calgary

GoodLeaf’s facility is a major step for food sovereignty in Alberta, CEO and founder Barry Murchie said

Article content

The facility that will produce leafy greens year-round for Calgarians, even in the cold dead of winter, officially opened Tuesday.

Located deep in Calgary’s industrial southeast next door to Amazon’s gargantuan sprawling warehouses, GoodLeaf Farms opened what’s being called the largest vertical farm in Canada at 96,000 square feet.

Article content

It marked the conclusion of construction on the massive $52-million facility. The Alberta government in 2021 chipped in $2.7 million through the Alberta Investment Growth Fund (IGF). GoodLeaf CEO and founder Barry Murchie said that while construction has finished, the company is expecting to double facility capacity “in the not-too-distant future.”

Advertisement 2

Article content

“It’s extraordinary the amount of effort that goes into building a farm that no one has done before,” Murchie said.

GoodLeaf Farms vertical facility
Growing trays are seeded and watered to grow microgreens at GoodLeaf Farms’ new vertical farming facility in Calgary on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

Premier Danielle Smith stopped in for a brief moment to meet with GoodLeaf executives and try the company’s lemonade infused with radish microgreens, leaving before the press conference started. Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson and Minister of Jobs, Economy and Trade Matt Jones also made a handful of remarks.

GoodLeaf’s facility is a major step for food sovereignty in Alberta, Murchie said, as concerns over water needs in areas of the U.S. have made vertical farms key facilities for regions’ food supply. Canada gets the majority of its leafy greens from California and Arizona.

“The next Black Swan event that happens, Canada needs to be prepared,” he said.

Recommended from Editorial

GoodLeaf has been supported by major investments from McCain Foods Ltd., Murchie’s employer for 25 years. The major food producer announced in February 2021 it had invested a total $65 million in GoodLeaf, and it has contributed more funding in the time since.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Sigurdson said Alberta’s agri-processing tax credit is a key to attracting more investment similar to GoodLeaf, adding that the province spent its targeted $2 billion of investment one year ahead of schedule.

Sigurdson said the province is seeking new targets “to provide more of that food stability and bring that localized production here.”

GoodLeaf Farms vertical facility
Large trays of microgreens emerge from the LED glow of the growing room at the opening of GoodLeaf Farms’ vertical farming facility in Calgary on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

Vertical farming has struggled in Calgary in the past

Vertical farming, for all its obvious benefits, hasn’t been a sure winner in Calgary and Canada, often riding short-lived excitement and capsizing within a few years.

One such company is Infarm, a German vertical farming company that at one point was valued at $1 billion. Infarm set up a Calgary farm and base in 2021 — one of 11 farms it had around the world at the time — and touted major growth plans in the Alberta market.

That all came to a half in November 2022 when Infarm announced it was laying off more than half its workforce and consolidating operations to a handful of its farms. Since then, the company pulled operations from Vancouver and Calgary but has maintained its facility in Hamilton.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Earlier this month on April 9, Infarm Indoor Urban Farming Canada Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Calgary. In an affidavit, founder and CEO Erez Galonska said the company’s business in Calgary and Vancouver wasn’t profitable, and was unable to pay the costs of improving its leased facility in Calgary.

GoodLeaf CEO confident: ‘We’re a food company’

Murchie said his company belongs in a different class compared to startups and other companies that have failed to make vertical farming stick.

“I think many of our peers have struggled because they had been investment bankers or they had been focusing in tech,” Murchie said. “They saw their ventures as being a tech venture. We’re a food company. Our DNA is food.”

GoodLeaf Farms vertical facility
Microgreens are packed at GoodLeaf Farms’ new vertical farming facility in Calgary on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

The company has been working on its technology for the better part of 12 years, he said. GoodLeaf opened its first commercial farm in Guelph, Ont. in 2019.

“One of the differentiating points is that we’ve taken time to figure out what the foundation should be … the others feel the walls closing in, we see the opportunities open up in front of us because we’ve taken time to build the foundation.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

Barry Murchie
GoodLeaf Farms President and CEO Barry Murchie speaks at the opening of their vertical farming facility in Calgary on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

Jeremy Dover, vice-president of engineering and automation at GoodLeaf, said the company’s incredibly humid facilities capture all the condensation produced and feed it back into the plants, meaning the only water leaving the facility is that embedded in the greens.

With Calgary’s typical supply chain for leafy greens, which often requires two weeks of transportation and therefore a higher spoilage rate, Calgarians often use greens that last just a few days in the fridge. GoodLeaf’s production facilities get leaves on shelves far faster and with more nutrients, he said.

“I don’t think people would have thought this was possible a few years ago,” he said.

— With files from Brent Calver

[email protected]
X: @mattscace67

Article content