Urban farmers see unlimited potential for growth within reclaimed shipping containers
A Calgarian’s attempt to bring the agriculture industry indoors is drawing the interest of customers, restaurateurs, investors, property owners and educators.
Doug Stewart, the owner of Eden Urban Farms, says he’s having a hard time keeping up with customer demand for the leafy greens and herbs he produces within the walls of a repurposed shipping container.
“There’s a lot of management, you try to keep everything staggered so that you always have a crop to give to people,” said Stewart. “Right now, we are working on a set crop plan. There’s a lot of (research and development) learning what each crop is like, learning the problems, learning what grows well and what doesn’t.”
Stewart, who has a background in utility management and renewable energy, says his current crop of customers includes caterers, high-end restaurants, and members of the general public.
The containers are purchased from a company located in North Carolina and shipped to a warehouse on the east edge of Calgary city limits, on Frontier Avenue Southeast, where they are installed. Eden Urban Farms currently grows produce in two shipping containers but a third is expected to arrive next week and a fourth scheduled for mid-May.
“We definitely are wanting to grow and we have plans to grow. We’ve identified two large commercial properties on either side of the city.”
From seeding to harvest, Eden Urban Farms can produce lettuce and herbs in less than six weeks and micro-greens in less than 10 days. Stewart says the quality of his yield is palpable.
“We’ve actually become accustomed to eating food that’s grown a great distance away and gone through a lot of processing,” explains Stewart. “What you’re losing, on top of everything with the cost of transportation, is you’re losing the flavour and the nutritional content.”
“Everything is grown here and we can harvest and deliver to the consumer in the same day.”
Daniel Hofer, ATB manager of entrepreneurship, assisted Stewart in securing government funding for the project. Hofer says Alberta’s economic downturn proved beneficial for the upstart.
“It’s a prime time to do this,” said Hofer. “When you talk about your labour costs and things like that, those are definitely down.”
Hofer calls the idea of indoor farming in Alberta phenomenal, stating the proof is in the crop itself.
“It’s a different ways to use the land that we have that we haven’t necessarily utilized to its fullest potential,” said Hofer. “It puts the regular crop yields to shame.”
“Romaine grows well, arugula grows well, parsley…really everything seems to grow really well,” adds Stewart.
Unlike his peers in conventional agriculture, Mother Nature plays little impact on Stewart’s bottom line.
“With all due respect to Dave Spence, we don’t care what the weather is outside,” said Stewart with a laugh. “If there’s a blizzard outside, we’re still growing.”
“We just think this is a natural for the Alberta market.”
For more information, visit Eden Natural Farms.