GREENLIGHT: On The Green Monster That Lurks Under Gastown’s Nicli Antica Pizzeria

August 13, 2012.

by Claudia Chan | Imagine a garden that requires practically no effort – no need to haul manure to and fro, no seeding, no fertilizing and no heavy equipment. You don’t even have to water it. The Urban Cultivator is urban farming reconsiderd. Your garden couldn’t get any simpler nor closer because it’s growing right in your kitchen. It’s a hydroponic appliance (a refrigerator lookalike) that houses micro greens and herbs indoors all year long in the most ideal of conditions. It self-regulates, so all you have to do is push a few buttons to ensure it’s at the right PH levels and that it has adequate lighting and water to keep your greens happy.

For the professional chef who works in a commercial kitchen, the Urban Cultivator could be their new best friend. Chefs are able to cook in close proximity to their produce, feeding their guests with fresh, quality greens like arugula, amaranth, nasturtiums, wheatgrass and pea tendrils. They wouldn’t be disappointed by soggy or dried up old veggies or have to wait impatiently for produce to be delivered on time from far away farms. This is truly a zero-mile diet.

I swung by the Urban Cultivator’s Gastown storefront – the Living Produce Aisle – this week to have a look see for myself. Situated downstairs right between Nicli Antica Pizzeria and Vicino Pastaria & Deli, the LPA is a showroom as well as a future green grocers where both restaurateurs and the public can go to purchase fresh microgreens and herbs. Currently, they’ve made a sweet bargain with Bill McCaig, owner of the two restaurants – free rent for commercial cultivators and fresh greens (a commercial cultivator goes for a cool $6000, while a home cultivator has a price point of $2300). Other notable fans of the technology include chefs from the Four Seasons in both Vancouver and Whistler, Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, The Pear Tree, businesses in San Francisco and investors in Mongolia who’ve recently ordered a decent load to install in new housing units (go figure).

While the concept may appear fairly novel, the design for the technology is actually born out of its original use to grow medical marijuana. Tarren Wolfe is one of the founders behind BC Northern Lights, a decade-old business that produces hydroponic units for marijuana cultivation. Essentially, he and his partners figured that they could grow any kind of green with this technology.

Most recently, Tarren, along with partners Davin MacGregor and Myles Ormand, pitched their product to Arlene Dickinson of Venture Communications on an episode of Dragon’s Den. The trio were originally hoping to have $400,000 in exchange for 10% equity and have just settled on $400,000 in marketing services, wherein Arlene would receive a 20% equity stake in the business.

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time for their venture as it continues to grow and capture more big players in the food industry. While interest is mostly local, the concept is beginning to enthuse home owners and big businesses on an international level (even Subway), which perhaps could suggest the eventual revolutionizing of the farm to kitchen to plate dynamic. Maybe with less reliance on farms, it’ll be just kitchens to plates.

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Claudia Chan is an advocate of all things green. Born and raised in Vancouver, she is inspired by the work of local urban farmers, eco artists and policy makers who make this city the most lush and livable to work and play in. Her mission with Scout and her “Greenlight” column is to impart her enthusiasm for bike lanes, community gardens, farmers’ markets and more to her fellow Vancouverites.

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