A ren­o­vated eatery in south Ot­tawa

Ottawa Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY SARAH BROWN

our short grow­ing sea­son, in­door farm­ing might be our best bet.

Green­houses are part of this move­ment to pro­vide year-round pro­duce, but their flaw is that they re­quire sun, which means they have to be laid out hor­i­zon­tally, tak­ing up space. Though Canada has no short­age of land, feed­ing ever-ex­pand­ing ur­ban pop­u­la­tions eco­nom­i­cally re­quires farms to be lo­cated closer to cities — where land is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive.

Amyot’s so­lu­tion: a ver­ti­cal, scal­able, mod­u­lar, por­ta­ble, and self-con­tained farm that can even­tu­ally be taken off grid. So what does that ac­tu­ally look like? Based out of Dalkeith, On­tario, Amyot’s farm is a ship­ping-con­tainer-like box (or mod­ule) that he has de­signed to con­nect to oth­ers like it in or­der to grow veg­eta­bles ver­ti­cally — ev­ery­thing from kale to straw­ber­ries.

The key piece to this in­door-farm­ing con­cept is Amyot’s Pri­mary Mod­ule. It’s the moth­er­ship to which all the other mod­ules link — mod­ules that can act as a cli­mate bar­rier, re­frig­er­ate pro­duce and, even­tu­ally, sup­port all en­ergy needs.

“Walk­ing up to the [Pri­mary Mod­ule] is very un­ex­cit­ing,” he ex­plains about the white box. “But when you open the door, the light and warmth and smells pour over you. It’s like step­ping into a farm, a rocket ship, and a bunch of child­hood mem­o­ries all at once.”

Af­ter the eyes ad­just to the glow of LED lights, one sees rows of ver­ti­cal walls stretch­ing far into the con­tainer, each lined with bunches of veg­eta­bles grow­ing from floor to ceil­ing. Rather than tra­di­tional farm­ing that sees plants grow­ing along­side each other hor­i­zon­tally, this sys­tem stacks in­di­vid­ual plants ver­ti­cally.

Grow­ing ver­ti­cally means less space is re­quired, and us­ing LED lights to grow plants freed Amyot from de­pen­dency on the sun.

“In the sim­plest terms, we use LED lights to feed the plants and heat the con­tainer farms, and spe­cial­ized heat­ing, ven­ti­la­tion, and air-con­di­tion­ing sys­tems to pro­vide a con­sis­tently ideal en­vi­ron­ment for the plants.”

The space is tight — there’s no doubt about that — but there is room for a stain­less steel ta­ble for work­ing with, say, seedlings or pre­par­ing veg­gies for distri­bu­tion. As the con­trol cen­tre for the farm, the Pri­mary Mod­ule also pro­vides farm­ers with real-time data via an app — the same app that gives farm­ers the abil­ity to con­trol the mod­ule’s de­vices re­motely. (Maybe, fi­nally, farm­ers will be able to take a va­ca­tion!)

Amyot is part of a grow­ing in­dus­try of high-tech farm­ers — en­trepreneurs, of­ten with skills in soft­ware de­sign — who are try­ing to re­duce Canada’s de­pen­dency on food from far­away places

Im­por­tantly, Mod­u­lar Farms has, ac­cord­ing to Amyot, achieved “yields twice as high as most other farm­ing sys­tems we’ve seen to date.”

“Not only can we ex­pe­dite seedling-to-har­vest times, but we can ex­tend har­vest times,” he con­tin­ues. Amyot gives the ex­am­ple of kale. “At our Toronto farm, the kale are al­most 11 months old and they’re still pro­vid­ing the same yield that they did when they were five months old.”

An­other ex­am­ple comes by way of the cherry tomato plant. “They grow abun­dantly, quickly, and re­ally long. Tra­di­tional life spans are three to five months. We were just over nine months when we ended our trial, and the cherry toma­toes were still yield­ing as much as when they were three months old.” Adds Amyot, “We’re pro­vid­ing the plants what they need at ev­ery step of their life cy­cle, 24 hours a day, which you can’t do out­side.”

So far, Mod­u­lar Farms has grown an ar­ray of veg­eta­bles, in­clud­ing let­tuce, straw­ber­ries, quinoa, hops, wasabi, and peas.

In talk­ing about the in­door ver­ti­cal farm, Amyot uses a phrase that seems more suited to soft­ware en­gi­neers: he calls it “the ul­ti­mate hack.” Be­cause when it comes to feed­ing peo­ple in an ef­fi­cient and sus­tain­able way, his farms are a short­cut.

“[Mod­u­lar Farms] aren’t so big that they can’t be de­ployed quickly and in spa­ces where farms typ­i­cally can’t ex­ist and not so small that they can’t feed many peo­ple. And be­cause of its scale and size, we can make broad, sweep­ing changes that will al­low us to quickly leap ahead of ex­ist­ing prac­tices — some­thing tra­di­tional agri­cul­ture sim­ply can­not do.”

That said, Amyot is aware that his farms won’t solve the world’s food-sup­ply prob­lem.

“As proud as I am of the tech­nol­ogy that we build, we’re only a small piece of the puzzle. The tone, gen­er­ally, in my in­dus­try is that tech­nol­ogy will even­tu­ally re­place tra­di­tional agri­cul­tural prac­tices. And while that may be the case in a dystopian fu­ture, it’s not go­ing to be the case in my or my chil­dren’s life­time. The fact that we be­lieve that any one so­lu­tion will fix ev­ery­thing is a prob­lem.”

The Ot­tawa Ten­nis and Lawn Bowl­ing Club makes après-ten­nis and vol­ley­ball the main event with The Cameron, its re­cently re­vamped club­house restau­rant. By part­ner­ing with Adrian Vez­ina of The Bel­mont, the OTLBC is tak­ing its menu — and mood — to new heights. —

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