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Space tech that feeds high-end diners in Toronto could help Canada’s North

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Technology being used to stock high-end Toronto restaurants with designer leafy greens could provide Northern Canadians with locally grown produce.

That’s the view of academic experts and entrepreneurs involved with a high-tech vertical garden housed in an east-end Toronto warehouse.

“We’re going to grow food using light recipes to make economic food, to make food cost-effective” says Amin Jadavji, “and I think that’s the North story”.

Jadavji is CEO of We the Roots, a company he co-founded in 2017 with six others, including celebrity chef Guy Rubino.

Recently, the federal government increased funding for shipping food to Northern Canada and expanded the Nutrition North program. That move comes as advances in hydroponics and LED lighting coming from research to grow food in space are expanding the prospects for northern farming. 

Amin Jadavji, CEO of We the Roots, says vertical farms can produce cost-effective food, including in Canada’s North. (James Dunne/CBC)

The vertical farm of We the Roots is a commercial test of the new tech. The most traditional farm-like thing about it is the pickup truck parked outside.    

The structure inside a former factory is roughly 14 metres long by three metres wide and four metres tall. It houses from 15,000 to 20,000 plants at a time. “We’re growing wild Italian arugula, mizuna, which is a Japanese mustard green, Tuscan kale, basil,” Jadavji says, “and a little bit of cilantro.”

See how hydroponic technology grows vegetables:

The operation is hydroponic and almost entirely automated. Water in the system carries nutrients and is recycled.

Plants are nested in trays and stacked seven layers high, each one under strips of LED bulbs. The bulbs provide a tailored light combination (cool white, green, deep red, ultraviolet, far red), created to bring out specific qualities in the plants, changing their size, texture and even taste.

Then there’s the nutrition factor. “We can increase things like calcium and phosphorus and various vitamins by as much as 50 per cent just by changing light recipes,” says Jadavji.

Young plants nestle inside the We the Roots vertical farm. The system features custom LED lighting from a company called Intravision. ( Yan Jun Li/CBC)

The system at We the Roots is the first commercial use of a concept developed by the University of Guelph in collaboration with a Norwegian company called Intravision, says Jadavji.

The university’s Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture program, which focuses on trying to grow plants in hostile environments like space, began using Intravision’s LED lights in research.  That developed into a stacked system that both light and water flow through.

Though this technology was created to help feed astronauts of the future, the first customers are already enjoying lunch and dinner at five upscale Toronto restaurants, including Parcheggio.  

In the hierarchy everything clicks into place with this product, which is awesome.— Andrew Piccinin, Parcheggio executive chef 

Parcheggio’s executive chef Andrew Piccinin dropped romaine lettuce from his salad menu after California’s E. coli problem.  With greens from We the Roots, he doesn’t worry about E. coli because hydroponics aren’t vulnerable to the same contamination.   

Besides safety, he loves that the greens are flavourful, local, and environmentally friendly. “In the hierarchy everything clicks into place with this product, which is awesome.”

Chef Andrew Piccinin of Parcheggio displays his ‘Nonna’s Salad,’ an old family recipe made with arugula grown in a new high-tech vertical farm. (James Dunne/CBC)

Vertical farming is part of a recent explosion in urban agriculture, a broad agriculture practice that dates back to ancient Egypt.

According to the United Nations, urban agriculture doubled from the early 1990s to 2005. Now, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says 800 million people in cities are growing fruits and veggies or raising animals, accounting for 15 to 20 per cent of the world’s food.

Vertical farming operations are a leading part of the trend.    

Analysts suggest the vertical farm market will shoot up to $13 billion US a year by 2024, from just under 1.8 billion US  in 2017.  

Though vertical farming has seen some high-profile failures in Vancouver and Chicago, entrepreneurs and investors see fresh opportunity.  

Aerofarms’ massive vertical farm in New Jersey is not hydroponic, but aeroponic. It uses less water by spraying plants with mist instead of soaking the roots. (Aerofarms)

CBC News reported on a massive investment in the sector in 2016. Inside Aerofarms’ large 6,500-square-metre facility in New Jersey aeroponics are used, spraying plants with mist instead of submerging them in water. The farm has the capacity to produce two million pounds of food a year.

In Canada, McCain Foods invested in a Nova Scotia vertical farm company called TruLeaf in the spring of 2018.

We the Roots plans to expand its Toronto operations next year. Jadavji is also opening two new farms, one about 135 kilometres from Toronto and one in New Jersey, each of them 1,850 square-metre facilities to produce 1.3 million pounds of greens per year.

Going big isn’t the only way to get into vertical farming though.  

Tiny turnkey vertical farms built inside shipping containers can be seen in cities such as Victoria, Calgary and Dartmouth, N.S.

 

Plants are densely packed into vertical towers inside the Very Local Greens container farm on the waterfront in Dartmouth, N.S. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Container operators can grow from 3,000 to 5,000 plants and sell at farmers’ markets and to restaurants and caterers. Prices for container farms range from just over $50,000 to more than $200,000.

American container farm makers have clever names like Freight Farms and Crop Box, and Canadians are doing the same with brands such as Growcer and Modular Farms, which sells new custom containers.

While many vertical farms are in large cities, Ottawa-based Growcer has six of its high-tech containers in Alaska and three in Northern Canada, with systems in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Kuujjuaq, Que., and Churchill, Man.  Another system is going to Manitoba and one to Yellowknife as well.

Growcer’s vertical farm in Churchill, Man., is made from a repurposed shipping container. The operator supplies stores, restaurants and individual or families with a weekly subscription. (Carley Basler)

Its units are insulated to function in temperatures as cold as –​52 C. Growcer CEO Corey Ellis says the company began in 2015 deeply concerned about improving the supply of fresh food in the North.

It was the high food prices in the North that also gave the company a buffer period to improve its technology. The company was able to win Northern customers as it was working to lower operating costs.

“It was a great testing ground because you know with a $7 head of lettuce that’s on the shelf before we show up,” says Ellis, “we knew that if we could even do a $3 head we would be doing well.”  Ellis says Growcer’s systems have advanced so much some units can match wholesale prices of greens from California.

It galls me, quite frankly, to think this Canadian technology will find its first expression in a large scale pilot in the deserts of Kuwait.— Mike Dixon, University of Guelph 

Experts believe it’s time to try large scale vertical gardens in the North.  

University of Guelph professor Mike Dixon is frustrated technology from the school’s space agriculture program isn’t being used to help address Northern food security.  

University of Guelph Prof. Mike Dixon believes large vertical gardens can help provide food security in Canada’s North. But he says, ‘It galls me, quite frankly, to think this Canadian technology will find its first expression in a large-scale pilot in the deserts of Kuwait.’ (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

We The Roots wants to try the system Dixon helped create in the North, but it will be tested in extreme heat before severe cold. Why? Because Kuwait is willing to invest in it.

“It galls me, quite frankly,” says Dixon, “to think this Canadian technology will find its first expression in a large-scale pilot in the deserts of Kuwait.”

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Window repair or replacement is the responsibility of the condo corporation

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If the windows in your condo are hazy, drafty, or have rotting frames, it’s an indicator that they need repairs or outright replacement.

However, under the Condominium Act, it is the responsibility of the condo’s board to carry out such changes as a replaced window is a common element.

“Under the Condominium Act, a declaration may alter the maintenance or repair obligations of unit owners and the corporation but cannot make unit owners responsible for repairs to the common elements,” said Gerry Hyman is a former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute and contributor for the Star.

“A declaration for a high-rise condominium invariably provides that the unit boundary is the interior surface of windows. That means that the entire window — whether it is a single pane or a double pane — is a common element. Necessary repairs or replacement of a broken pane is the obligation of the corporation.”

According to Consumer Reports, selecting an installing windows replacement can be very overwhelming for homeowners. Therefore, if you aren’t covered by your condo’s corporation, it would be necessary to hire professional hands.

Wood, vinyl and composite windows need to be tested on how they can withstand various natural elements. For wind resistance, a window can be very tight when it’s warm but get quite cold too—especially when it begins to leak a lot.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line remains that replacement windows can save you heating and cooling costs, but it’s best not to expect drastic savings.

Additionally, while getting a new window might help you save on your electric and gas bills, due to their expensive cost, it may take a long time to offset their cost.

Mid-last-year, the government withdraw a $377 million Green Ontario program that provided subsidy on windows to installers and repairers. Window companies had to install energy-efficient windows in order to qualify for the government subsidy that pays for up to $500 of a $1,000 to $1,500 window.

Due to the largely generous subsidies from the government under the Green Ontario program, a lot of window dealers were fully booked for months—even after the program had ended.

“We’re fine with the program ending, we just need more time to satisfy consumers,” said Jason Neal, the executive director of the Siding and Window Dealer Association of Canada, the industry group representing window dealers in a report.

According to Neal, the Progressive Conservatives acted hastily, making massive changes with no prior notice.

“No notification was given to us by anyone,” he said, noting he learned about the change through one of his dealers.

“It’s created a ripple effect.If they had just given us notice we would have pushed that down the line from the manufacturer right into the dealer right down to the consumer.”

Neal noted that he wasn’t particularly sad to see the Green Ontario program end, as it was “the worst rebate program in the history of the window industry.”

“It’s been horrible,” he said. “$500 a window has created such hysteria.”

However, despite the program ending about a year ago, numerous homeowners have been contacting window dealers consistently with concerns that they might not be able to afford replacement windows without the government’s subsidy.

“I understand their concern,” said window dealer Chris George. “I would suggest they reach out to their local representative of the government in their riding and let them know about their concerns.”

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7 Vancouver Real Estate Buying Tips

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The real estate market in Vancouver is turning around for good for everyone looking to purchase a home.

Previously soaring prices are now beginning to ease up, making it a perfect time for buyers—with real estate agents already getting ready for a very busy spring and summer season.

However, before splashing cash on a new property, there are some very important tips you need to know to ensure you make the most of the buyer’s market.

Here are some few expert tips that would guide you when purchasing a home in the sometimes frustration Vancouver seller’s market.

  1. Get adequate financing

It is very important that before you make the move to purchase a property, you put into careful consideration your credit score.

Normally, home buyers with lower scores use the secondary mortgage market to finance their purchase, as they’re more likely to pay a higher interest rate.However, it is advisable to get loan approval long before purchasing the house. This way, you are fully aware of how much you are able to spend—but never be tempted to borrow the maximum amount of money available.

“What’s your mortgage payment that you’re comfortable with? And take into the fact the taxes you’re going to have to pay, if it’s a strata – what the maintenance fees are, if it’s a home what type of maintenance are you going to have to pay in the future?” said Phil Moore, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver in a report.

Always be careful of the type of loan you secure and ensure that you can comfortably afford it over a long period of time.

  1. Get a real estate agent

Buying a property without professional help is a very risky move and can be likened to choosing to represent yourself in court without a lawyer. While you might trust your negotiation skills, only realtors are permitted to present offers directly.

Therefore, it is necessary to get a professional real estate agent in the area to represent you. So, screen a few agents and select the best one who has in-depth knowledge of the markets and has a great reputation.

“They’re there to protect you. They’re there to walk you through each step of the process,” Moore said.

  1. Sign up for automated alerts

Most—if not all—realtors have access to the Vancouver real estate board’s database which is updated approximately two days before the public MLS website.

Therefore, you can request from your realtor to sign you up for automatic real-time alerts of all new listings. Doing this gives you an edge as you’re among the very first to know about new properties.

  1. Do a thorough inspection

After receiving an alert for a new listing, it is necessary to push almost immediately for an inspection from your realtor. In this current market, buyers now have time to make an inspection.

Making a quick inspection eliminates any surprises—as there could be major maintenance or repair issues that could spring up. Therefore, you can now table your offer based on the outcome of the inspection, with clauses about claiming your damage deposit back if everything isn’t as was advertised.

Additionally, if you notice that renovations were done, you need to be sure that it was permitted work and carried out appropriately. Failing to do this would ultimately lead to further cost down the line and simultaneously affect the resale value.

  1. Have a back-up plan

There’s always the possibility that everything may not go as smoothly as you’d want. From the inspection being a failureto the property not living up to your expectations—or not being able to agree on the closing date that matches with your needs.

However, a professional real estate agent will definitely help you get past all of these things. If you plan on selling the property as you buy, you can table that and make it part of the deal.

“You’ve got an option, especially in a buyer’s market: you can put in an offer subject to selling your place. So maybe you want to have a place lined up,” Moore added.

Additionally, building contingencies into your buying plan is necessary. Things such as unexpected delays in closing the deal, closing cost and moving costs that could result in added living expenses if that’s your permanent home.

  1. Don’t fall for the buyer frenzy

The Vancouver market buying frenzy that caused a serious climb in the prices a couple of years ago has ended. Thus, it is important not to get caught up in bidding wars with properties that have been deliberately under-priced—with the hope of initiating multiple offers.

“Some of the sellers have been on the market for over a year and they’re eager to sell. So what I’m saying to consumers is: you have a lot of choices, you’re in the driver’s seat, let’s go out and take a look at what’s available,” said Moore.

  1. Never be wary of multiple offers

When purchasing a property, don’t be afraid of multiple offers as you have the same opportunity as anybody else.

Typically, there are just a few offers below the asking price: a couple priced fully, and two or three above the asking price—depending on how close the fair market value is from the asking price.

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Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?

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(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at tarion.com.

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