This interview details GoodLeaf Farms, an indoor farming company based in Canada. The interview is with Barry Murchie, CEO of GoodLeaf Farms.
What is the origin story of GoodLeaf Farms?
GoodLeaf Farms was founded in Halifax in 2011 by Gregg Curwin. Inspired by indoor hydroponic farms in Japan, he set about developing the idea to deliver locally grown, fresh, nutritious produce to Canadians year round.
The first few years involved trials to establish the optimum conditions for plant growth, the varieties best suited for the indoor growing environment and how to make vertical farming commercially viable. The first GoodLeaf pilot farm was built near Truro, NS, in 2015 to test commercial production and continue research and development into new varieties and growing techniques.
Work began in Guelph, Ont., in 2018 to build GoodLeaf’s first large-scale, fully commercialized farm; by summer 2019, GoodLeaf was supplying microgreens and baby greens to retailers and restaurants across Ontario from this 50,000-square-foot facility, producing 900,000 pounds of leafy greens for Canadian consumers annually.
Can you tell us more about your vertical farming facility and the scale-up?
Since the dawn of agriculture, we have been growing food on horizontal outdoor planes; but we are leveraging innovative technology to grow up instead of out.
We use regular seeds like you would plant outdoors, in a growing medium that is fed nutrient-rich water using an old technology known as ebb and flood. Our disruption is we use artificial LED light that is engineered to mimic the spring sun, giving our plants exactly what they need to maximize photosynthesis.
Our climate-controlled indoor vertical farms are game changers. They are immune to extreme weather events — like floods, extreme heat or a typical Canadian winter.
Designed to maximize crop yields in a fraction of the space required for open-field farming, we can do so without pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
Process is fully automated, from planting the seed through harvest and packaging. The first hands to touch the greens consumers buy will be their own.
The success of the Guelph farm has spawned a national expansion, with farms in Calgary and Montreal slated to open later this year. Each of these farms is twice the size of the Guelph farm, and will each produce 1.9 million pounds of leafy greens annually.
With this expansion, GoodLeaf is the largest vertical farming company in Canada and will be serving grocery stores and restaurants from coast to coast with healthy and delicious microgreens and baby greens.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing GoodLeaf Farms in the future?
We are disruptor in the food space, and what we are offering Canadian consumers is a new concept for them. That takes a lot of consumer education.
We have taken on the challenge of alerting consumers to microgreens as a new segment within produce, that is made possible to all Canadian consumers via vertical farming technology because these plants are too sensitive to be grown in an open-field format.
When you walk into the produce aisle of the grocery store, as much as 90 percent of the leafy greens are imported. We are working hard to let consumers know that their leafy greens do not have to come from faraway farms in the southwestern United States or Mexico.
Agricultural technology and innovation can make Canada fully self-sufficient in a range of leafy greens — despite the fact our open-field farms are largely dormant through autumn and winter. We have the technology and are expanding the capacity to grow the food Canadians need right here in Canada, no matter the season and no matter the weather.
As an “import replacement” product, we offer an alternative that isn’t going to run into shortages because of extreme weather events or geopolitical happenings that could close a border. Continued investment and support for agricultural innovation and technology can help Canada avoid future food shortages like the one it is currently experiencing with imported lettuce and leafy greens.
Plus, local food is healthier. The moment a plant is harvested, it starts losing nutrients. GoodLeaf greens are on grocery store shelves faster, and offer a punch of nutrients — some microgreens possess 40 times the nutrients compared to their mature plant counterparts.
What is unique about Good Leaf Farms compared to competitors?
This is a technology-driven business, but at the end of the day, we are a food company.
The success of GoodLeaf Farms is that we are a true value-add business that is focused on execution; our secret sauce is working hard every day to produce consistency in our products at a high level. That’s what distinguishes GoodLeaf.
Being high-tech is a table stake in our sector. But where some may have a singular focus on the technology or the data — and make no mistake, they are important — we focus on preparation and precise execution of horticulture excellence and food safety essentials on a daily basis. We use data to ensure we are on the right track.
How do you measure the impact of your company so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
Our success is being measured by overall growth on many different fronts.
GoodLeaf microgreens and baby greens are available in most leading retailers in Ontario, sold in more than 600 locations including Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Zehrs, Real Canadian Superstore, Foodland, Longos, Valu-Mart, Your Independent Grocer, Fortinos, Whole Foods, Voila and other independent grocers across the province, as well as a growing list of restaurants. That is progress.
The number of locations where you can find GoodLeaf greens will certainly grow when our Calgary and Montreal farms begin operations, creating a truly national network of fresh, locally grown leafy greens for Canadians.
The completion of the new farms will further strengthen GoodLeaf’s leadership in Canada, making it the only Canadian vertical farming company to produce nutrient-dense, pesticide-free baby greens, and microgreens throughout Canada from coast-to-coast. Once fully operational, between our three farms we will be producing nearly five million pounds of leafy greens each year.
But we are also measuring growth in innovation, experimenting with new products, technologies, and processes to refine and perfect our indoor growing techniques. This is just the beginning of crops that are suitable for indoor production. We are exploring new things that are hard to produce consistently in an outdoor environment or products that need a sterile environment for medical uses. But these are processes that take years, not weeks or even months.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined or started the company?
We have invested a lot of time and resources on assessing the appropriate balance between automation and manual activities, engineering design for future farms, seed development for innovative crops, supplier partnerships that support our expansion and ultimately how to tell our story of sustainability and superior product to Canadian consumers.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Good Leaf Farms?
Learn more about GoodLeaf Farms by visiting our website goodleaffarms.com. Connect with us on Instagram and Facebook.
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