St. Stephen – Stewart Farms, a New Brunswick-based vertical, indoor aquaponic farming business, expects to begin the renovation of its property in the St. Stephen Business Park early in the New Year.
Tanner Stewart, company president and CEO, said the business is waiting on the final sign off of its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from the provincial government.
“We basically put everything on hold while we went through the process,” said Stewart, saying he was reluctant to move the project forward “unless we have the full green light.”
He said the company has “minimal conditions” it must meet, like obtaining a fish licence.
Stewart said now that the final signatures are pending on the government approval of its compliance to the EIA the company intends to have staff in the former SWP building in the New Year to clean the exterior and interior.
“We hope to begin renovations in the second quarter of the New Year,” stated Stewart. He said the company’s current timeline is to have leafy green produce and tilapia fish to market by 2018.
This “vertical farm” method will see leafy greens grown indoors in an environmentally controlled atmosphere
The aquaponic technology will see tilapia fish contained in separate tanks in an aquaculture room where they are fed a high protein, organic diet.
The fish waste is filtered, and provides the nutrients which feed the plant roots.
Stewart said the company will, in the beginning, have between 12-16 staff, but once full production is reached in 2020, could employ “well north of 80 full time positions.” Most of those jobs will be on the produce side of the business.
The business will expand internally in multiple module phases throughout 2018 and 2020. Stewart said the farm will produce 200 metric tonnes of tilapia for market per year. “On the produce side, when we get to full capacity, we will produce 3,000 metric tonnes per year.”
Leafy greens will be the farm’s main focus. “There will be a lot of lettuce,” said Stewart with a chuckle. He said the farm will produce multiple varieties of lettuce, including Asian varieties of leafy greens and “superfoods” like kale.
Phase one of the farm project will see 4,000 square metres of leafy green production, which will grow to 20,000 square metres by 2020. The greens are grown on vertical shelves, 30 inches apart, and based on density, will eventually produce the equivalent of produce grown on more than 48.5 hectares (120 acres).
“We can harvest those ‘acres’ 12 or more times a year,” explained Stewart, noting that depending on where a garden was in the world and the best climates, like California, traditional growers get between four and six harvests a year.
Stewart said he is eager to open his business in St. Stephen. Originally from Miramichi, Stewart said all the company’s initial endeavours will be based in New Brunswick. St. Stephen is the first and is ideally situated since the company’s target market is the northeastern United States and Atlantic Canada. From here, the company hopes to expand to wherever locations the market will bear, including more New Brunswick locations.
He said the other great thing about the St. Stephen location was the support the business has received from Mayor Allan MacEachern and town council and local MLA John Ames.
Stewart noted the recent spurt of new businesses in the community and said it boded well for the municipality’s future economic growth.
“I cannot wait to have my first meeting at the new Picaroons location,” he said with a laugh, referring to the microbrewery and Five Kings Restaurant due to open in downtown St. Stephen.