Innovative indoor farm set for summer

An indoor farm will soon be growing fresh produce in Charlotte County, with the capacity to produce up to 8,000 pounds of food.

Eastern Charlotte Waterways, an environmental nonprofit based in Blacks Harbour, recently announced it received up to $126,996 in federal funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for its Indoor Farm and Living Lab project, the food security arm of the three-pronged Project:Village.

The federal funds will go toward electrical and plumbing upgrades for the indoor farm, which was once the community’s only grocery store but has sat empty for years.

Brian Goggin will be overseeing the technical aspects of the indoor farm. He recently graduated from UNB Saint John’s Dr. Thierry Chopin’s Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture Laboratory, where he studied crop selection in hydroponic and aquaponic farms.

He says he’s most excited to see the former grocery store turn into an asset that serves the community.

“We’re using a former grocery store, an existing piece of infrastructure, and refurbishing it into a community asset that will apply innovative farming techniques,” he said.

He added it could inspire other people or community groups to think about retrofitting existing buildings to serve their communities, too.

First announced in 2021, Project:Village addresses housing, transportation and food security in the Eastern Charlotte region.

Since then, four electric vehicles have hit the road for a car-share program in the region, and there are affordable housing plans in the works, too.

The food security arm of the project aims to address rising food prices and food insecurity in southern New Brunswick.

Briana Cowie, executive director of the non-profit, said the funding will also be used to purchase 50 hydroponic growing towers, as well as a geothermal system, and composters to manage food waste.

The indoor lab will have the capacity to grow between 5,500 and 8,000 pounds of food, with the first crops being two different types of lettuce, arugula, basil and cilantro.

If all goes to plan, the lab could be up and running this summer, with the first harvest this fall.

Goggin said these particular crops were chosen partially because they have a short growing cycle, and they can be harvested within six to eight weeks of being planted.

Additionally, there are limitations to what can be grown indoors, he added, along with what is “economically feasible” to grow.

“For a venture like this, we need a fast turnover for crops,” he said.

The chosen produce is also commonly found in cuisines, he said.

Cowie said the non-profit has been collaborating with local food banks and other service providers about food storage and distribution throughout the region.

There are two community engagement events for the indoor food lab project: one held on Tuesday, March 14th, from 5:30 until 7:00 PM at Sunbury Shores Art Gallery in Saint Andrews, and the second at the Stella Maris Hall in Blacks Harbour on Wednesday, March 15th from 5:30 until 7:00 PM.

Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal