Urban indoor vertical farm sprouts in downtown Kingsville

KINGSVILLE — A new business opened Friday in Kingsville that will reduce the time fresh greens travel from farm to plate.

Ortaliza, a new urban indoor vertical farm store on Main Street West, will grow and sell 25 varieties of microgreens — the nutrient-rich sweet spot between sprouts and a fully grown vegetable.

Much like a greenhouse, Ortaliza uses artificial light to grow familiar microgreens like broccoli and kale but also exotic varieties like scarlet mustard and arugula wasabi.

Carina Biacchi, who co-founded Ortaliza with her husband Alvaro Fernandes, an agronomist, said Kingsville was the ideal choice to launch what they hope will be the first of many vertical farm stores.

“This region has become such an important tourist destination,” she said. “So we believe that will help us have new eyes on our product. And this is one of the largest indoor farm areas in the world so we thought this would be a complement to the ag industry here.”

Biacchi said the microgreens can be purchased pre-packaged in the store at 25 Main St. W. or through monthly subscriptions. The products sold will be at most two days after harvest at prices ranging from $4.99 to $6.99 per package. She said the greens can be used in salads, soups, pestos or as a healthy topping to a burger or pizza.

The store is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.

Fernandes said each tray of microgreens grows in a nutrient-rich peat moss substrate and is watered by hand. There are no pesticides used and packaging is a blend of compostable and recyclable material.

Fernandes said some of the microgreens produced intense flavours and others, like carrot microgreens, mimic the taste of carrot but in leaf form.

He said vegetables in a grocery store often represent the last stage of the plant’s growing cycle, a time when the plant begins to wind down and divert energy — and nutrients — toward reproducing and producing seed.

“If you think of a flower, a flower flowers because it’s time,” Fernandes. “It’s trying to produce seeds because it is trying to reproduce itself, so that means it’s not going to focus its energy on the leaves. It’s completely focused on reproduction. Nutrients on the leaves will start decaying.

“What we are growing are literally booster plants, that’s why they are so packed with nutrients.”

Fernandes and Biacchi immigrated to Canada from Brazil five years ago and have travelled widely. Biacchi, who worked in the energy field, and Fernandes, the agronomist, had seen virtual farming operations during their travels worldwide and decided to do something similar in Kingsville but at the walk-in, retail level.

There are plans to double production. At full capacity, Ortaliza — the name is derived from the Spanish word for vegetable garden — will produce enough greens to feed 1,000 families a week, Fernandes said.

“That’s a lot for a store like this, it’s only 850 square feet. That’s the beauty of vertical farming.”

Trevor Loop, operations manager for Banded Goose microbrewery and Jack’s Gastropub, said his pub and restaurant already make use of a limited number of microgreens for salads and garnishes. But he said he was intrigued by the variety of offerings provided by Ortaliza.

“We will definitely check it out,” he said.

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