Local company providing fresh produce, tools to grow it all year long

The Yukon isn’t the place in the world most suited to year-round farming, given its long winters and short, unpredictable summers, but one local company is trying to change that.

Since opening its doors last July, Cold Acre Food Systems has been perfecting its indoor hydroponic growing systems for greens and herbs that can be harvested continually throughout the year.

“Hydroponics is a very old growing system and can be done in different methods,” said Carl Burgess, Cold Acre Food Systems CEO. “It’s essentially nutrient water delivered to roots to grow plants.”

“The benefit of it in a food production for a community sense is that there is less soil management because there is no soil management and in that way it can stabilize production year round,” Burgess added.

The company does the majority of its farming in two shipping container-style growing facilities located on Titanium Way in the Marwell industrial area.

“Right now we are operating 6,000 planting spaces,” Burgess said. “One of those (containers) is basically equivalent to an acre of a market garden,” and “one container can give, at minimum, a weekly supply of greens to about 100 to 200 people.”

Denise Gordon, Cold Acre Food Systems lead grower, holds trays of micro greens in front of their growing unit in Whitehorse on July 26, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Environmentally, the system uses 10 to 20 per cent less water than the traditional method of growing, Burgess said. The carbon footprint is also greatly reduced since produce only has to travel a couple blocks to its destination compared to being shipped on trucks, food waste is almost nonexistent because of the high reliability of growing indoors, the company uses compostable packaging, and there are no storage facilities.

“We harvest and go,” Burgess said. “It’s usually within two hours of harvesting that the produce is in the grocery stores or dropped off at someone’s home.”

What began as some test lettuce crops has turned into a diverse selection of leafy greens, like bok choy, arugula, kale, mizuna and rainbow chard, as well as several different types of micro greens, which are similar to sprouts in appearance, and basil. The company is also experimenting with growing edible flowers and mushrooms.

Cold Acre Food Systems currently sells the vegetables it grows to several grocery stores in Whitehorse, restaurants and cafes, and through a subscription box.

“The last year of business has been lots of fun,” Burgess said. “We went from being a very small food producer to a medium-sized food producer (in the Yukon).”

But selling the vegetables it grows isn’t the end game for this company. Building, selling and installing growing systems is also part of Cold Acre’s business model. The company can build custom growing facilities for just about any client, from smaller at-home units to the larger commercial shipping container-style units.

Right now there are two large units that will soon be providing fresh produce to Yukon communities. The first, in partnership with the University of Calgary, is at the Kluane Lake Research Station near Silver City. Once it is up and running it will provide food to the Haines Junction and Burwash Landing areas. The second, currently still in Whitehorse, is owned by Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation (NNDDC) and will be ready to feed people in the Mayo area this spring.

Leafy greens grow under neon lights in a shipping container style facility in Whitehorse on July 26, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

“We are currently fabricating a small-scale unit for demonstration/growing inside the Mayo Foods Store as part of the NNDDC project,” said Burgess.

The objective of Cold Acre Food Systems is to reduce food scarcity in the North and to enable everyone access to fresh produce year-round.

“Success will be twofold,” said Burgess. “Our goal is to activate indoor growing. So success will look like a handful of growing facilities around that we either deployed or helped deploy. And success for us looks like a large growing facility that’s displacing a number of food products that right now are coming up the road and doing that cost effectively for consumers.”

Contact Crystal Schick at crystal.schick@yukon-news.com

food security

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