Two brothers, a dentist with a background in Biology and an IT/tech business expert, have been working on starting a commercial, high-density vertical farm with the goal of supplying the entire British Columbia (BC) population with leafy greens and more. The idea for this venture originated seven years ago. “During my dental residency, I spent time on Haida Gwaii, an island in northern BC, and I realized that people there don’t have the same access to fresh produce in retail stores as people in other parts of Canada,” says Bahram Rashti, one of the founding brothers of UP Vertical Farms. “They receive an inferior quality product because of their location while at the same time paying a higher price.” Realizing this problem still existed and that he and his brother had the right mix of expertise to fix it, they looked for a solution to bring food production closer to local communities.
The brothers started with 1.5 years of market research, followed by 2.5 years of R&D before starting construction plans on their first facility. This Fall, when the plant factory in Pitt Meadows, BC, is expected to open, will mark seven years of research and preparation. “We are very excited to share our product with the Canadian population. In this one-acre facility, we use 99 percent less agricultural land and 99 percent less fresh water while supplying enough leafy greens to feed all of BC,” Bahram said. It is the equivalent of 1.9 million kilos of leafy greens per year once the Pitt Meadows facility is in full production. The Rashti brothers expect to scale up fast and across all of North America, including other parts of Canada as well as the US.
UP Vertical Farms will be fully automated from seeding through harvest in humidity, temperature, water, light, and nutrient-controlled environment. “We’ve integrated all our systems to allow for fully automated and touchless seeding, growing harvesting, and packaging.” The controlled environment agriculture (CEA) ecosystems have been fully designed for high-density vertical farming of baby leafy greens without the use of any pesticides or herbicides.
Shelf-life and taste profile
Will there be room for another leafy greens product on the shelf? “Absolutely,” said Shahram Rashti, co-founder of UP. “There is a fundamental problem with spoilage of leafy greens everywhere,” he added. Quality and shelf-life are very important and significantly impact flavor. “Because we work with a vertical hydroponic system, the plants have 24-hour access to nutrients, resulting in a better flavor and higher taste profile. The controlled environment provides plants with the best conditions 365 days per year.” As a result of the optimal growing environment, the plants grow faster, creating shorter growing cycles of 13-21 days. This translates to a 350 times higher yield per square foot of land per year. Adding to the freshness is UP’s commitment to have the product at retail stores within 24 hours after harvest.
UP’s ready-to-eat greens will come in a variety of different blends for retailers to choose from. “Retailers can create their own custom blends that are exclusive to them,” said Shahram. Not only the varieties but also the height of the greens is customizable. “We have the ability to grow them longer, shorter, or add more crunch. There is full controllability, allowing retailers to create their own custom packs,” he added. The product is packed in a bag with modified air inside to extend shelf-life. The modified air bag is covered by a cardboard box for branding. “This package uses 95 percent less plastic than a clamshell and is fully recyclable.”
Oppy will be the exclusive marketer and distributor of UP’s leafy green products. “We started talking with Oppy four years ago and realized their philosophy matches ours,” the Rashti brothers commented. “We are confident we will be able to provide a superior product to the masses for a similar price.”