Longtime Cloverdale resident Dave Dinesen will be giving a talk on the future of agricultural technology at an upcoming TEDx conference in Chilliwack.
Dinesen is the CEO of Langley-based Cubic Farm Systems Corp. His talk will focus on the opportunities that technology can give farmers and food-lovers to provide and consume locally grown produce.
Advances in ‘ag tech,’ he said, are “enabling us to grow large amounts of food … locally at a commercial scale — profitably — so we can stop doing crazy things like shipping a head of lettuce thousands of miles from California only for the privilege of throwing it out in the garbage,” he said.
At first glance, a CubicFarms System looks like a vertical garden, but it isn’t the same at all, according to Dinesen.
Vertical gardens are static, stacked rows of plants and growing lights. A CubicFarms System rotates rows of plants to sit under a single row of light — cutting down on electrical and energy costs. It also means less labour and less space is needed to grow crops.
An “enormous amount of produce grows very, very efficiently,” said Dinesen, explaining that the system uses about 1/4 of the amount of labour while producing 2 1/2 times more produce.
By Dinesen’s count, the system is 12 times more efficient than traditional methods. It’s what makes it profitable on a commercial scale, he said. After all, the leafy greens coming out of CubicFarm have to compete in the grocery store with “California prices.”
CubicFarms systems are sold globally, as well as in the Fraser Valley. Produce from a Pitt Meadows-area CubicFarm sells at many IGA stores and Fresh St. Markets, for example, as well as being served up in local restaurants.
The systems grow hundreds of varieties of leafy greens — romaine, spring mixes, kale, bok choy, you name it — as well as herbs and microgreens, many of which have a one-week turnaround time from seed to harvest.
Plants grow quickly because the system allows a farmer to “provide the perfect environment for each crop,” said Dinesen.
The crop grow quickly, and keeps longer, too, thanks to a unique method of harvesting.
When a plant is harvested from the CubicFarm, the roots stay on and the crop remains alive. It means an “unprecedented” shelf life, said Dinesen.
If you buy a typical head of lettuce from the grocery store, he explained, you need to eat it within a few days or it begins to decay. But CubicFarm produced lettuce still has its roots. “It will live two or three weeks in the fridge and still be delicious,” he said.
And then of course, you’re eating leafy greens as fresh as it can get. It’s delicious, and “there’s just no comparison, really.”
Dinesen put it this way: “It’s like eating a Krispy Kreme donut when it’s hot and fresh, compared to when it’s five days old.”
This won’t be Dinesen’s first TEDx talk — he spoke at Abbotsford TEDx in 2017. But he’s looking forward to showcasing how far the business has come since then.
“I’m really looking forward to show what we were talking about in 2017 to what we’ve actually now done.”
Dinesen will be one of about a dozen speakers at the Chilliwack TEDx, scheduled to take place on April 13 at G.W. Graham theatre.
As the theme of Chilliwack TEDx is “On Purpose,” Dinesen will also touch on the difficulty of bringing an idea such as the CubicFarms System to life.
He said that although he was working with some of the best propagation farmers “on Earth,” it was still very hard.
“Bringing a complex tech to market doesn’t happen without dogged determination,” he said. “It was persistence that has made this possible.”