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Controlled food growth in an urban setting

Robert A. Young
0 Comments|April 29, 2013

Urban Barns Foods has also applied for patents for the most logical way to design the mechanization

As the search continues for more efficient ways to deliver food to an expanding global population, it’s not surprising that companies in the "vertical growing space" are getting attention.

Urban Barns Foods Inc. (OTCQB: URBF, Stock Forum) is a legitimate breakthrough in the production of leafy green vegetables, such as butter lettuce and spinach, spring mix, cruciferous vegetables like kale, mint, basil, oregano, cilantro, thyme plus raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, baby tomatoes, etc. 

McGill University is a world leader in the new field of growing agricultural produce at their MacDonald campus facility. The essence of what they research is growing fresh produce, berries and fruits in indoor farms, year round, within 45 minutes of your local grocery store or restaurant. Urban Barns Foods Inc. leads this new field of “controlled environment growing.”  

Quoting the McGill publication, “Focus on MacDonald”, “cubic farming”, a patented technology developed by Urban Barns, is set to revolutionize indoor agriculture. Rather than using conventional flat growing surfaces (greenhouse or field), this technology uses the entire cubic space of a building, hence its name. 

Cubic farming allows the production of affordable vegetables in a secure and controlled environment. The system can be set up anywhere, so proximity to consumers reduces transportation costs. Produce can be supplied on demand.” 

Field farming designs produce to travel long distances in cooler trucks losing nutritional value during shipping. California produce can be five to eight days old before it’s on store shelves. 

In the yield estimates, with Urban Barns Foods Inc.’s cubic farming, made possible by their leafy green production system, allows for incredible yield. Plant cycle length ranges from 21 days to 36 days, depending on the product and the size requested. For example, the four-star hotel, the Fairmont Waterfront, in Vancouver, wants smaller butter lettuce products; that would be a 21 day growing cycle. They are customers and enthusiastic end users of the product. 

These modular growing units (8 ft x 20 ft x 8 ft) can be stacked vertically or aligned horizontally. It does not matter the shape of the building or floor plan or ceiling height. USDA data states that the average annual yield (two crops) per acre (of farmland) is approximately 74,000 plants. 

Urban Barns, on a 28 day growing cycle, would be 119 times as productive per acre. In one acre, Urban Barns Foods Inc. could have 436 machines producing 8,842,080 heads of butter lettuce. 

This intensive use of land is important in places like China and India; both areas are short of agricultural land and coal fired electricity plants are contaminating the soil with lead and arsenic. Indoor controlled agriculture allows farming with food safety in a contaminated world.

 People think they have seen what Urban Barns Foods has. Competing companies have a similar offering but substantially less sophisticated mechanization and their scale (volume) pales in comparison to Urban Barns Foods cubic farming growing units. When the scale is huge, profit margins can be robust. 

The company has also applied for patents for the most logical way to design the mechanization of their “Cubic Farming” making it difficult to re-engineer without violating the patent pending protection. 

The real benefit of what Urban Barns Foods has is it is not dependent whatsoever on the environment. They can grow 12 months of the year in Alaska and give delivery six days a week. The University of Arizona is growing produce in their experimental facility in the South Pole. Urban Barns has their counsel. 

Urban Barns Foods can produce food in the desert (provided a minimum humidity is available). They will do this with dehumidifiers as they only need 6 % of the water of conventional farming. Cubic agriculture has been raised as an additional solution to issues of agriculture sustainability and food safety, food security and traceability together with a reduction to current high carbon emission levels and degraded nutritional values. 


Facilities such as Urban Barns Foods do not have any greenhouse windows because the plants need total consistency throughout their growth cycle.   The plants also need a small amount of “managed stress” for “taste” and nutritional value. The sun is usually too hot, clouded over or it’s night time.  

Just like plants, it’s not good for human beings to be out in the sun for too long a period, either. Another advantage we have over organic, which is 99% grown outdoors, is that Urban Barns Foods does not need to use “natural pesticides” (which can be double the strength and more harmful than chemical pesticides). 

Organic farmers sometimes use micronized fish parts for fertilizer, with lime and other ingredients, which can give the produce a fishy taste. 

To quote Mark Lefsrud, who is a bio-resource engineering professor and is the lead researcher on the Urban Barns file at McGill’s MacDonald campus...” We will be testing combinations of LED lights to give plants exactly what they need to grow. 

In a controlled environment, we can easily adjust light, airflow and water to achieve optimum results for each species grown”. “We will also be looking at energy reduction, carbon footprint, nutrient recycling, minimal water usage and recyclable product packaging, leading to a sustainable urban agriculture model.” 

In the McGill Publications, Focus on MacDonald, the newsletter concludes “the idea of food production in an urban agricultural environment has been proposed by a number of companies but the technology already developed by Urban Barns Foods Inc., coupled with McGill food production research and engineering knowledge, will allow the cubic agriculture system to reach the next level of sustainable food production. 

Shares of Urban Barns were recently quoted at 4 cents, leaving the company with a market cap of just under $6 million, based on 148.8 million shares outstanding. The 52-week range is 16.5 cents and $0.008. 

Other companies in the “vertical growing space” include Alterrus Systems Inc. (CAN: C.ASI, Stock Forum). The stock last traded at 5 cents, leaving Aterrrus Systems with a market cap of $4.8 million, based on 95.8 million shares outstanding. The 52-week range is 16 cents and 4 cents. 

This piece was written by Robert A Young, owner of the The RAYA Group. Based in Vancouver, RAYA is acting as a corporate development consultant to Urban Barns Foods Inc. Email: [email protected]. Robert Young also holds an option to buy shares in Urban Barns.      

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