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"the focus has not been on our market"

Kinghaven Farms to supply Ontario with greenhouse grown lettuce

"Many big CEA players are opening US-based facilities now, intended to service the US market, but here in Toronto, we still primarily eat west coast lettuce. It's expensive and old, an issue that has been bothering me personally for a while." Speaking is Jay Willmot, President at Kinghaven Farms. He's hoping to start building a leafy greens greenhouse later this year in King Township, Ontario. "The focus has not been on our market, and that's hurting Ontarians everywhere."

It's been a year of drawing, consulting, calculating, and designing through many iterations. "But we're thrilled with how everything is coming together now," says Willmot when revealing the plans for Kinghaven Farms' new greenhouse enterprise. "We believe our location, only a 30-minute drive from Toronto and nearby the city's main grocery and food service distribution centers, will give us a competitive advantage in fulfilling local demand for fresh leafy greens. In collaboration with advisors Dan Plant of Plant Dynamics, Eric Highfield of High Yield Horticulture, and through exciting partnerships with industry experts at Havecon, VB, PB Tec, and Green Automation, we've put together a well-thought-out facility down to the tiniest detail. In terms of operational flow and the deployment of cutting-edge technology, our facility is designed to maximize yield and minimize unit cost." He adds, laughing: "For a hot second, it's going to be one of the most advanced systems in the world."

Having grown up at Kinghaven - his family's farm of 55 years with a rich history in thoroughbred horse racing and breeding – Willmot, 38 and a third-generation farmer, became president of the organization in October 2021. Prior to his appointment, Willmot spent the previous 15 years working to modernize and diversify Kinghaven's farming business by investing in renewable energy facilities and a commercial beekeeping business, and since 2013 has operated a law practice in Ontario specializing in the development, financing, and construction of renewable energy generation and battery storage facilities both locally and abroad.

Holding a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance from Dalhousie University, a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, and a Master's Degree in Environmental Studies from York University, Willmot looked for a business opportunity combining the fields of agriculture, sustainability, and energy, seeking to help strengthen his local community and fight food insecurity – which is where the leafy greens industry came in. "We have some vertical farms and some limited greenhouse facilities growing leafy greens in Ontario, but the market is dramatically underserved," he says. "The most affordable consumer option is generally the lettuce driven here from California, Arizona, and Mexico. Bringing a fresher, better-tasting, non-GMO product, grown pesticide-free, in a more sustainable way, at a stable, affordable price - that's what we want to do."

Cost-wise, the timing for this mission might not seem ideal, as global interest rates have risen dramatically over the past 12 months – but Willmot reflects, saying there's never a perfect timing. "The cost of capital might be high, but with consistent price shocks hitting Ontario leafy greens import market as a result of the impacts of climate change, drought, increasing transportation and energy costs, and labor shortages, now is the right time. Construction costs have stabilized coming out of the pandemic and even come down a bit, so we're not too concerned about recent fluctuations there, and interest rates will not stay this high forever. We have good relationships with our financiers and are ready to make the investments necessary to get the new business off the ground. We want to get this going, and address the gap in the local economy from a horticultural point of view, and we're excited to be able to do this at a time when we're seeing broad disruption, particularly on the west coast and in Mexico. It's clear something must change."

With Willmot's background in renewables, the energy system is one to keep an eye out for a 3 MWp solar PV facility is to be co-located alongside the greenhouse. This installation will be able to fulfill nearly the complete electricity needs of the first phase of the greenhouse, a two-hectare facility. "Whatever shortfall is left in energy supply by the solar PV, we can support with other technologies like battery storage and modular small-scale combined heat and power generators, providing voltage stability and also allowing us to generate and capture our own CO2 for plant respiration," Willmot explains. "With this micro-grid, we can not only ensure that our consumers will be able to confidently buy from us knowing that our leafy greens have been produced with the highest ideals of environmental sustainability in mind, we can remove our reliance on the grid and hedge our long term energy costs – which what we believe is important as we don't want to be a burden on the grid either. Willmot continues: "It's an elegant integration as the renewable power is mainly available in the summertime when we can use it for our cooling systems. In winter, we can use the electricity to offset the costs of other electrical demand centers, like the LED lights."

Other highlights of the facility include heating pipes on the roof to melt snow and the ability to use rainwater or melted snow within the facility, a high-tech packing hall, and a cutting edge fully automated mobile gulley system by Green Automation, which all results in a facility that only needs about 20 to 25 people, including growers, packers, logistics coordinators, maintenance crews, and food safety specialists, to grow millions of kilograms of lettuce crops annually. "Being 10 minutes from the TTC subway and only minutes away from the Go Train, the commute from downtown Toronto is very doable, which means we can attract great talent."

So, what are we waiting for? "Planning and permitting," Willmot answers. "The municipality is reviewing and hopefully approving our plans. Following our approval, which we hope to receive within months, we can move forward with construction. We feel great support for our plans from many partners in and outside the industry and cannot wait for next year."

For more information:
Kinghaven Farms Cultivation Limited
4305 King Road
King City, ON, Canada
L7B 1K4
Tel.: +1 (905) 833-3770