Ty James of West Coast Micro Greens at his operation in Saanich.

Saanich company hits the jackpot with container design

Linda Geggie

For the Saanich News

There is a little company that is taking flight here in Saanich that has the potential to revolutionize food growing right, and also internationally. It’s called West Coast Microgreens, and I had the chance to go and visit Ty James, the president and CEO, to see his operation in action just off Interurban Road.

James has turned about a half acre of land into a highly productive farm in just over a year. Even though it was early in the spring, there was already a significant crop of greens growing in his beds and greenhouse. I was interested to see firsthand their patented “Jackpot” cloth bag container system that is the signature of the business. The name is an indicator of the payoff that growers might hit from using the product and their farming system.

The premise behind West Coast Microgreens is to work with communities, schools, governments, non-profit organizations, urban farmers, residential and commercial growers to achieve better results in farming. They have developed this specialized non-woven polypropylene cloth that is resistant to heat and cold and prevents root circling that often occurs with plants, trees and shrubs in plastic containers. It is also porous which allows for airflow, maintaining cooler temperatures and when set up with a drip irrigation system, is designed to keep even moisture levels.

James is excited about the potential for this product to be used both by backyard growers but also in commercial applications. He tells me about the systems they have set up in the region including at the Victoria Golf Club and Saint Michael University School (SMUS). The chefs harvest fresh greens right out their back door at the Victoria Golf Club.

“It not only makes good sense in terms of cost, but it ensures the highest quality fresh foods, and is something the chefs are excited about,” said James, who is also working with students at SMUS. “It was great to set up SMUS rooftop garden. It’s so great to see the next generation so passionate about food and where it comes from.”

The Jackpot container system is flexible and being set up on all scales, from apartment balconies to local grocers showing interest in setting up the farming systems right in their parking lots. Showing the economic viability of the farming system is critical to James, and besides setting up systems, he is growing greens for local grocers and restaurants at his demonstration site in Saanich. “Demand is blowing up,” he says.

West Coast Microgreens is also finding traction internationally marketing the growing system with their partners Sutra Holding Inc. Over the next decade, their goal is to create a network of micro farms internationally in urban areas. They have been working to develop their business relationships in Singapore, Malaysia and India, where there are highly dense populations and not a lot of land to grow on. “With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, it is our social responsibility to ensure that we intelligently address these challenges while upholding local biodiversity. The sheer demand for sustainably grown food and community oriented farming is enough to propel this movement into the future,” said James.

As we ended our tour in the greenhouse, I asked him why he got into this business. He said he believes that micro farming is not only economically viable but it can be the perfect antidote to modern life with its fast pace and stress. “I worked in so many jobs, from the premier’s office to tech companies, but I felt like I was limiting my potential and there was more I could do. I thought, food is a recession proof business and it will always be in demand. People will always need to eat.”

Also a motivating factor for him was his belief that good food should be a right not a privilege. “I want to make it easier for people to gain access to healthy food. I wanted to show people that it is simple to grow food, and growing can provide you with a deeper connection to your environment.”

Sampling some of the greens, he professed, “besides, it tastes so much better when you grow it yourself.” If you want to learn more about West Coast Microgreens check out their website (www.westcoastmicrogreens.com)

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@cfair.ca.

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