A new portable turnkey farming system made in Ontario could contribute to improving food security, solving supply chain disruptions and conserving water resources.
Last month, ZipGrow Inc., a Cornwall-based global provider of vertical farming systems, unveiled its latest innovation: the ZipPod.
“The ZipPod fills a niche between big vertical farms and the backyard garden, ideal for the far north or desert conditions or a parking lot in Toronto. It fills a niche that has been lacking until now,” says Eric Lang, president and co-founder of ZipGrow.
Helping others is a core value for the Jindal family – one the local couple recently put into action with a $1 million donation.
Launched at the International Plowing Match held in Kemptville this past September, the ZipPod resembles a truck shipping container but is actually a purpose-built container farm that compacts anywhere from two to four acres of farmland into a 3,800 cubic foot hydroponic farm. At its launch, the ZipPod garnered a lot of attention, with hundreds of farmers and families wandering its aisles and sampling the produce growing along the walls and down the centre of the container. The ZipPod is a turnkey operation that can be delivered ready for immediate use anywhere in the world.
“The day it arrives, the ZipPod is ready to go and you can get in and start growing. It is a full R22-insulated setup, that is snow load rated and engineering and building code rated so you can drop it either far up north where it’s minus 40C to minus 45C, or far south where it’s plus 40C to plus 45C, or in a parking lot in Toronto,” says Lang.
The pods, like other ZipGrow vertical farm systems, operate on a closed loop system, where water is continually re-circulated resulting in 95 per cent less water use than traditional farming.
“The ZipPod’s energy requirements … (are) neutral or negative, using about 250 kw/day for 38,500 heads of lettuce per year and almost no water,” says Lang.
The initial cost for a ZipPod is US$179,000 and operating costs are estimated at around US$17,000 to US$20,000 a year. Each container can produce up to 3,200 kg of basil, for example, or 5,200 kg of kale in a year, according to the brochure.
Like all ZipGrow’s vertical farming systems, including its original product the ZipGrow Tower, the ZipPod is designed for soil-less growing using grow mediums such as peat and nutrients tailored to the produce added to the water within an enclosed ecosystem.
“We control the environment inside — the light — the nutrients and all of that translates into a very flavourful product; no herbicides, fungicides or pesticides,” says Abby Lepak, co-owner of Farm Girl Greens, who operates a ZipGrow vertical warehouse farm in Auburn, N.Y.
Lepak focuses on growing food for her community and has been in business for almost three years. “We’re the only source of local fresh greens in our community. Our customers and even a chef tell me my lettuce tastes like spring,” she says.
To a large extent, that’s why ZipGrow developed the ZipPod, to make it possible for people in communities that don’t have access to good farmland or where the climate is too harsh to have access to year-round fresh produce grown locally.
“The reality is what drives us is access to healthy food. I’m still a traditional farmer, have been farming all my life,” says Lang, explaining that vertical farming and ZipPod farming are not meant to replace traditional farms but to improve food security.
ZipGrow is one of several agtech companies that have located in Cornwall and are turning the city into the agtech innovation hub of Eastern Ontario. Companies like Cultivatd, Fieldless Farms and ZipGrow are pushing the boundaries of agtech innovations, developing new technologies and services to provide better access to healthy food in a climate of diminishing farmland and food security.
“We’re fortunate to have a number of leading-edge agtech companies in Cornwall and they’re spurring more. It’s an absolute growth sector for us,” says Bob Peters, manager of economic development with the City of Cornwall.