Within six months of completing construction on its Cornwall growing facility, Fieldless Farms’ produce could already be found on the shelves of more than 20 Farm Boy stores across Ontario.
But armed with an aggressive expansion plan to bring more hydroponically grown vegetables to Canadians, CEO Jon Lomow says his company is just getting started.
Fieldless currently supplies two types of lettuce mixes – Northern Crunch and Ontario Sweets – grown in its Cornwall indoor farming facility. Lomow wants to rapidly expand both the types of crops the startup grows as well as its physical footprint.
Fieldless uses just 20,000 square feet at its Cornwall facility for its current operations, but Lomow insists that will increase quickly, with the CEO also harbouring ambitions of building new growing facilities in Toronto, Montreal and even the country’s west coast by 2025.
“We want to scale this very large – we want to be a national success story. We want to play a major role in shortening supply chains for Canadians using controlled environment agriculture,” Lomow says.
He says Fieldless will significantly increase its capacity to grow leafy greens in the next one to three years, increasing the yield of both its current lettuce mixes and other crops such as romaine lettuce, spinaches and basil. From there, there are plans to expand to smaller vegetable crops, including baby tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, which the company is just on the cusp of being able to grow economically, Lomow says.
That kind of aggressive growth may seem overly optimistic to some, but Lomow says rapid change is all the company has known since its inception. Fieldless, which secured its first round of private capital funding in June last year, has gone from finishing construction on its Cornwall facility to providing almost 2,000 packs of lettuce mixes to customers each week inside six months.
Initially just selling products through Burrow Shop, the Ottawa-based online retailer Lomow co-founded, as well as Ottawa’s Massine’s Your Independent Grocer, Fieldless achieved one of its early goals in August when it signed a deal with supermarket chain Farm Boy to supply its lettuce mixes to 16 stores spanning from Cornwall to Kingston. That number quickly jumped when Farm Boy asked weeks later if Fieldless could supply seven stores in the Toronto area, a number that is set to grow again in coming weeks.
Farm Boy’s origin in Cornwall and its “obsessive focus” on reducing the amount of fresh produce wastage made it the perfect first retailer to partner with, Lomow says.
That early growth gives confidence to Lomow, who notes that Canada – reliant on $48 billion of food imports each year – needs to significantly increase its food production in future years.
Lomow is also buoyed by what he predicts will be a “trillion-dollar evolution in the agriculture industry,” powered by falling automation costs and efficiency improvements in lighting technologies.
The thing that sets Fieldless apart is that it’s not trying to do it all, Lomow says. Before launching, it signed a deal with an unnamed Canadian partner that handles the hydroponic technology side of the equation, leaving Lomow and his team to focus on the supply chain as well as perfecting the taste of its products and getting the products into stores.
“We’ll deploy core technologies for our growing platforms and then we’ll innovate inside the gaps, because there are tons of gaps still in indoor farming,” Lomow says. “We just won’t be developing the core technology.”
“We decided we were way better off to focus our efforts on evaluating that technology, in making sure that we had the right technology as opposed to starting from scratch. If you go down the wrong road you’re kind of stuck there.”
The current technology platform sees lettuce crops grow from seedlings inside a 20-day cycle in a way that Lomow says strikes “the right balance between automation and manual labour,” but Fieldless’ technology agnostic approach means it will partner with other technology companies to build other facilities and grow other crops in the future.