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Barrie vertical farming facility wants to change the way food is produced, distributed

Local Leaf Farms plans to open its next location in Kingston. After that, it's aiming to open up 18 more locations across Canada over the next four years.
Local Leaf Farms plans to open its next location in Kingston. After that, it's aiming to open up 18 more locations across Canada over the next four years. Provided/Local Leaf Farms

It was just eight days after a Barrie, Ont., vertical farming facility started production that Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province’s emergency COVID-19 lockdown.

But since then, Local Leaf Farms has been able to provide food to local charities, including the Salvation Army, the Women’s and Children’s Shelter and the Barrie Food Bank.

Read more: Coronavirus: Migrant worker testing centre near Windsor to shut down

“I can’t say we actually envisioned opening up right into a global pandemic,” Steve Jones, president and CEO of Local Leaf Farms, told Global News.

“It’s aligned, in an interesting way, in what we’re able to offer because Canadians are concerned about food safety.”

According to a recent Ipsos survey conducted for Local Leaf Farms, 88 per cent of respondents said that food safety is important to their purchase decisions when buying lettuce and produce.

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What vertical farming allows, Jones said, is the ability to grow produce in a climate-controlled facility without the use of any soil.

“Because of that, we’re able to grow with 95 per cent less water and 99 per cent less land because the environment is absolutely precise,” he said. “It allows us to grow without pesticides or herbicides.”

Read more: Protect migrant workers or face consequences, Ford and Trudeau warn farmers

Produce and greens from Local Leaf Farms are slated to be on the shelves of Goodness Me! at Park Place, Foodland locations throughout Simcoe County and Muskoka, as well as Simcoe Harvest.

Local Leaf Farms plans to open its next location in Kingston. After that, it’s aiming to open up 18 more locations across Canada over the next four years.

“The first six of them are going to be in Ontario before we move out of the province,” Jones said.

“We have a dependency on a foreign supply, and that dependency has been brought into question during this pandemic.”

Read more: B.C. entrepreneur hopes to bring ‘vertical farming’ to Squamish

This year, many local producers will not be ready to grow the amount of food that they were before because of a dependency on and shortage of migrant workers, Jones added.

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“Vertical changes all that,” he said. “We’re able to grow 365 days a year. Climate change doesn’t impact us. Trade wars do not impact us. Pandemics do not impact us.”

Ipsos survey: The findings are from an Ipsos poll conducted between May 28 and June 1, 2020, on behalf of Local Leaf Farms. For this survey, a sample of 1,001 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.