Calgary's large indoor veggie farms aim to match the price of California imports

When the price of growing produce in a local, high-tech warehouse edges down low enough to rival the California imports, it's called 'field parity'. NuLeaf Farms hit that target with basil and thyme, they are close with lettuce and kale, and the dream is ripe strawberries, on which the company is working in the test garden. 

The floods in B.C. and increases in gasoline prices have put the fragility of Calgary's food supply system in sharp relief. Food costs have increased dramatically over the past year. These indoor crops will not help families scrambling to fill the fridge today, but some insiders believe farms such as NuLeaf are part of the long-term solution.

Kristi Peters, who heads up the city's food strategy, says Calgary now has three new large-scale facilities, plus several small ones, and is seeing interest grow. "It's a piece of the food resiliency strategy," she said. "I don't think we can ever replace our dependency on imported food, but the indoor farm sector offers more predictable, more stable year-round yields."

At NuLeaf, Wright celebrates the fact his team has not had to increase prices for produce yet. Since early this year, they have been selling it to local restaurants and directly from the farm, which is near the Deerfoot Casino just off Barlow Trail in Calgary's southeast. They are hoping to scale up with more locations in the city and in isolated rural communities. He is in talks with several First Nations.

The grow room is the size of two semi-truck trailers put side by side. Plants grow in rows up the walls, fed by a dripping hydroponics system. It is loud and windy because of the fans circulating air with three times the normal level of carbon dioxide, thus increasing growth up to 50 percent and acting as a carbon sink.

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