Picture this: it’s November in the North Okanagan. The first dusting or big dump of snow has hit the region and the ground is all white-covered.
You get a last-minute dinner invitation and your friends want you to bring your legendary Caesar salad. Except now, instead of going to the local grocery store and picking up imported romaine lettuce, you can grab fresh greens made at a Spallumcheen farm.
The same goes for some herbs.
Welcome to Greenlion Farms on Hullcar Road in the township, home of Lesley and Mark van Deursen and their children, and an indoor growing facility that began operating in March.
The van Deursens entered a partnership with CubicFarms of Pitt Meadows who provide systems to grow commercial-scale crops indoors, an endeavour Mark first encountered several years ago in Alberta while selling tillage equipment.
“We are growing multiple varieties of lettuce, microgreens and, soon, herbs, basil primarily,” said Lesley shortly after she and Mark gave a majority of Spall council a recent tour of the facility.
What council learned was the farm can grow produce using only the amount of water required, then recycling unused water back into the system. This drastically reduces water consumption compared to conventional farming methods. These controlled chambers produce a higher yield per square foot and a smaller footprint of land use.
“All of the seeds go into plugs then go into the germination module and spend a certain period of time there until they’ve grown to about one and a half-to-two inches tall,” said Lesley. “Then they’re transplanted into a different module where they spend the rest of growth cycle to reach a 42-day maturity. Then they’re harvested out of that same module.”
The produce is packed, kept in a cooler for a day and sent to a distribution facility in Lake Country. Greenlion Farms did its first seeding the third week of March.
Spall councillors and Mayor Christine Fraser were given varieties of romaine and iceberg lettuce to sample.
“The lettuce I brought home was delicious,” said Coun. Andrew Casson. “It is always great to see new and exciting ways that Township of Spallumcheen businesses and farms are finding to grow and flourish.”
The van Deursens employs four staff members at the growing facility.
“I think the idea of being able to have year-round crops (and by extension, provide consistent employment) is an awesome aspect to their business,” said Casson. “Also, utilizing a controlled environment can mitigate the element of poor weather conditions, case in point being the heatwave we’ve just come through.”
Coun. Gerry Popoff was another quite impressed with the new facility.
“It’s going to be quite a good thing for the municipality and the community,” said Popoff. “It will use less water and the water that is used is recycled. It’s a boost for the municipality. We are getting quite diversified.”
The van Deursens have only been on the farm for nearly three years. When they first moved to the township, CubicFarms wasn’t even on their radar. But with both being passionate about local, sustainable, chemical-free practices, a partnership to grow year-round produce in an automated, environment-controlled system was struck.
Speaking of ‘struck,’ the pandemic hit just as the van Deursens were putting the financing together to construct the facility. They did catch a break when they found could build on some of their non-farming property.
“It was all unusable for the crops,” said Lesley. “Mark’s brother (Peter) does fieldwork for the organic crops here, and he seeded around this portion. It was a huge blessing that the rock on the land was here.”
The lettuce and herbs will be sold locally at grocery stores and to Thompson Okanagan area restaurants. Some of the produce will also be sold and shipped to the Lower Mainland.