New company hopes to grow fresh produce year-round

Daniel MacEachern
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Urban Barns’ “Cubic Farming” model uses LED light and a controlled environment to minimize water usage to grow fresh produce. — Submitted photo

A former Newfoundlander is partnering with a Quebec firm to try to grow fresh produce in Newfoundland and Labrador throughout the year.

Urban Barns — which grows produce indoors with a proprietary method called “Cubic Farming” — signed a memorandum of understanding this week with Newfoundland Fresh Produce, allowing the local company to establish a growing facility in the province.

“We all know what happens in and around Newfoundland and for a lot of the country.  ... We’ll get our produce — most of it coming from California — we’ll buy it, it’ll last two or three days, and we’re throwing it out,” said Stephen Bruce, 27, president and CEO of Newfoundland Fresh Produce. “What Urban Barns is out to do on a global basis is they’re trying to, and they’re going to be able to, provide food traceability, food sustainability, while in turn being able to extend the shelf life of the natural produce.”

A news release announcing the agreement noted that the first facility will have four growing machines, with additional machines and facilities to be added throughout the province.

Bruce, who will be coming back from Montreal — he grew up in

St. John’s and Corner Brook — to establish the operation, wouldn’t say where the growing facility, or facilities, will be set up.

“That will all be announced when we’re ready to bring it to market,” he said, declining also to provide a specific timeline. “That will all be discussed once we’re ready to come. I have three partners, financiers. Once we’re all on the same page and we’re ready to announce that, we’ll bring it to the media, but we’re aiming to be operational by the end of 2013 in terms of producing.”

The farming method uses a modular, stacking growing apparatus and LED light and a controlled environment to minimize water usage. Urban Barns launched its first growing operation in Langley, B.C., in January. Bruce said the company won’t be selling directly to consumers.

“We’re going to go to grocery stores. We’re going to go to the restaurants. We’re going to go to the hotels,” he said.

Kristen Lowitt, a Memorial University doctoral candidate with research interests in sustainable food systems and food security, isn’t familiar with the specifics of this project, but said it would be interesting to see how it plays out.

“As an island as a whole, there’s certain challenges and a kind of vulnerability in food supply, particularly with perishable foods, which have to come such a distance and aren’t always as fresh as we might like them by the time they reach the island by ferry and truck,” she said, adding that there also inequities across the province in access to fresh produce. “If you’re a senior in a small town and you don’t have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and no local grocery, it’s much harder for that person, who might not have access to a car, to drive to a supermarket somewhere else in a larger place.”

Achieving food security in the province would have to address those inequities, said Lowitt.

“Would these fresh fruits and vegetables reach communities that don’t have a lot of access to that, or will it be supplied mostly to areas that may already have comparatively better access to them, like in St. John’s, for example? Those are questions that I would be interested in.”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Urban Barns

Geographic location: California, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec Montreal Corner Brook Langley

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Recent comments

  • Pensioner
    June 09, 2013 - 12:13

    Best of luck to you!

  • Pensioner
    June 09, 2013 - 12:09

    Best of luck to you!

  • Ceres
    June 08, 2013 - 08:21

    I wish you all the best in your business - food security is a problem on the island, and it's great to see people stepping up to tackle the challenge. I will happily pay a little more for locally grown fresh food, and I know I'm not the only one. Good luck, can't wait to see your produce on the shelves!

  • cuda
    June 07, 2013 - 20:43

    Mr.Bruce little more detail of this venture >>your website was useless for information. Cost for product/chemicals used or maybe you should enlighten us the details that are missing. >>>>> Plus don’t you think the big company’s (Sobeys, Loblaws) might undersell your product and money talks >>>I’d go for the cheaper fruit and veggies not sure if yours would be any cleaner from chemicals.

  • Mary
    June 07, 2013 - 14:23

    smells like another SPRUNG GREENHOUSE to me

    • david
      June 07, 2013 - 15:37

      Sorry....wrong. First of all, if it's privately owned and funded, I as a tax-paying Newfoundlander shouldn't be impacted in the least if it failed like Sprung did. Having said that, the mere fact that it IS privately financed, and has therefore been economically vetted and scrutinized in the real world (instead of Political Farceland) makes it's chances of success FAR higher than Sprung's ever was.

  • Cyril Rogers
    June 07, 2013 - 13:47

    Mr. Bruce, I wish you all the best and hope your project succeeds. My concern would be cost and accessibility in small towns and rural areas. I am very concerned, not only about the quality of many of these "fresh" products we now obtain from the big stores, but also how many potentially harmful chemicals have been used to keep them reasonably fresh. A small-scale version of your concept, that would provide fresh produce in remote areas would be a great boon to many people....primarily from a health perspective.

  • dan
    June 07, 2013 - 11:55

    Very interesting idea! Best of luck and I hope to be buying FRESH produce here on the island next winter!

  • saelcove
    June 07, 2013 - 10:21

    and will the cost be comparable not likely

  • Stephen Bruce
    June 07, 2013 - 09:02

    Grandma, Thank you for your interest and concern. Everything is indoors so climate does not play a factor. Notable, we are not seeking any government funding as the money is coming from private investors. We appreciate your interest and welcome any comments or questions. Best, Stephen Bruce Newfoundland Fresh Produce

  • Well done
    June 07, 2013 - 08:54

    Despite the fact that I'm a Newfounder, I wish these people the best of luck in their endeavors.

  • Roger
    June 07, 2013 - 08:47

    Great Idea, I hope it works out. We need better produce in this province. The problem with sprung was the choice of products they grew (cucumbers) and the timing. People think differently about food. If they choose the right products and keep prices resonible they should do ok. They should go to Chris Snellen for advice, he has been running a successful hydroponic lettuce company here for years. Truth be know some of the gear was probably from sprung leftovers. but thats just hearsay

  • Grandma
    June 07, 2013 - 08:03

    Well, shades of Sprung. It may use a different method but a costly one just the same. I hope this is not another venture relying on the Government Cash Cow. The first growing operation opened in B.C. just last January where the winters are milder, with few days that are below freezing. Even that one may not prove to be finacially sustainable. Imagine keeping these structures heated, snow cleared and standing upright in our cold, snowy and windy winters. Government beware, don't go down that same road a second time!