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How vertical indoor farming can reduce water use by up to 98%

Alberta farmers are no strangers to drought either. The latest National Agroclimate Risk Report shows deep red in the southern areas of the province where many crops are grown.

But indoor farms are also coming to the prairie landscape.

“Inspired Greens comes to mind. They're out of Coaldale and you see their lettuces in all the big box grocery stores,” said Wright. “But I do see … lots of experimenting going on. The growers are all really trying to diversify what they grow.”

And they're really focused on the flavor of the greens and the nutrient density of the greens, she says, adding the probability of a food scare or a contamination issue is lower in that ultra controlled environment.

“don't want to eat that spinach that has 70 per cent less nutrients than it did 30 years ago because the soil is depleted. Even if it's organic, you know, people are quite interested in making sure that the food that they eat is of the highest quality,” said Peters.

When Wendy’s announced they were going to use Whole Leafs they emphasized how it was grown with zero pesticides.

“The move to greenhouse-grown lettuce is part of our ongoing commitment to offer Canadians the highest quality, best-tasting ingredients,” said Lisa Deletroz, the senior director of marketing for Wendy's Canada in a

“We know that greenhouse farms grow produce that hits the mark for freshness and delicious flavour every time. What's more, this transition will enable Wendy's to further support Canadian producers and the Canadian economy, while offering supply predictability and consistency."

That consistency is key, as farming can sometimes be a big gamble for some producers. Alberta pays out millions in insurance when crops fail for droughts, floods, or even severe prairie storms becoming more common with climate change.

But Alberta’s government also introduced a $10-million Investment and Growth Fund (IGF) to help attract investors and companies to expand their business into Alberta, rather than other competing jurisdictions. The fund was able to entice McCain-backed Goodleaf Farms to start construction on what they call the country’s largest commercial vertical farm in a 74,000-square-foot facility in Calgary after a $2.73-million incentive. The company said it would create 50 jobs during construction and 70 permanent jobs upon startup.

But over at NuLeaf, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Wright says those kinds of funding initiatives lead to staff shortage and competition with local growers — especially because “modern farmers” are required to be more tech savvy.

“Often these are big multinational companies that don't really need the cash in the first place,” he said.

“So we have a brain drain that essentially happens from young companies and ecosystems into these larger companies, only making it harder for actual Canadian innovation to take hold.”

Other innovation challenges are still being sorted out.

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