VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Squamish First Nation has joined forces with TerraSphere Systems, LLC, who is revolutionizing the way fresh organic produce is grown. The company, which designs and builds systems for growing fruits and vegetables in a controlled, indoor environment, uses clean technology to create solutions to food production challenges.
TerraSphere’s growth carousels control growing conditions to maximize crop yield with the combined use of light, water, nutrition, gravity, centrifugal forces and gasses.
The compact, automated system is entirely self-contained. Rotating spheres attached to a vertical carousel hold rows of up to 328 plants which are exposed to a light source and individually connected to a nutrient supply system.
The system can be used to grow a variety of plants, including leafy vegetables, herbs, berries and other fruits.
“We design and build new wave agriculture technology that utilizes cubic feet as opposed to square feet,” said Technical Director Nick Brusatore. “We use no sun and the water is recycled. It is state of the art, clean and as good as any vegetables will ever be.”
There are 3,500 people in the Squamish Nation with 60 percent under the age of 25. “That provides us with a great incentive to make sure that things are happening not only today, but for the future of our people as well,” said Chief Gibby Jacob of the Squamish First Nation. “Like everybody else right now, the Squamish Nation is being hurt by the current economic conditions. It has always been my belief that we should diversify our business interests as best we can. Everybody has to eat, so I thought this would be a natural move for our Nation to make.
“We are building a 10,000-square-foot facility, 8,000 for operations and the other 2,000 for office space.”
TerraSphere will be moving into the office space on the Squamish First Nation reserve some time this summer. According to Brusatore, the Nation has licensed the rights to TerraSphere’s process and equipment in British Columbia.
The produce grown in the system is mechanically pollinated, accelerating the growth rate 30 to 60 percent over traditional field cultivation methods. A 400-square-foot footprint of the carousel will provide about the same production results as an acre of land which has 43,560 square feet. The new facility will be able to grow about 10 times more per square foot than a traditional greenhouse. The Nation has purchased 20 TerraSphere growth carousels.
About 75 percent of the water in the system is recycled from each crop growth. “The only water that leaves the system is in the plant tissue,” Jacob said. “With the worldwide shortage of fresh water this could be an outstanding opportunity. This will also create about 15 full-time jobs for our people. That is just the start as far as I am concerned.”
The Squamish have also partnered with Choices Markets, British Columbia’s leading grocer of organic foods, to provide them with 10 herbs. “The Squamish people have done all the right things with marketing firms. It is all being done simultaneously as we are moving forward with the facilities being built. All of the goods are already sold. When their label really takes off they will be involved with very large scale movers and will be able to command their own price based on the quality, freshness and consistency of their product,” said Brusatore.
Toting his products as the best available anywhere, Brusatore said the Squamish will eventually be able to grow cauliflower, broccoli, iceberg and romaine lettuce, herbs, strawberries and chives. “The only thing they won’t be able to grow over the next year is anything on a vine.”
Designs are in the works to grow root vegetables – organic carrots, potatoes and radishes. Since these types of produce can cold store for a longer period of time, the demand for this type of produce has to be carefully balanced with production.
“In a 50,000-square-foot facility we could produce about 30,000 heads of lettuce a day, every day. If there was crop damage in the South because of weather conditions, it would take us about a week to retool and replant the crops that will not be making it to market. It’s pretty exciting to be able to change gears like that. If a head of romaine lettuce is going to be $5 a head in two months because of a tornado that destroyed the crop, we can grow it and have it on the shelf in 40 days.
“These facilities are the truest form of self-sustaining economic development that money can buy. In our model we are hoping the Squamish people will be able to have their business pay for itself in 18 months. That is a great rate of return,” Brusatore said. “We are definitely going to make a difference in agriculture. TerraSphere is very proud to be doing business with the Squamish people. They believed in us as a company and they deserve a lot of credit for that. I am excited to watch this happen.”
Descendants of the coastal Salish aboriginal peoples, the Squamish Nation today is located in the Vancouver area. In addition to being involved in several multi-million dollar business ventures throughout the region, they are also one of four host Nations who won the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Para Olympic Games.