With federal funding over two years, Okanagan College personnel, in partnership with Handmade Shoppe owner Karen Dow, are involved in research into how to reduce heating costs for greenhouses in cool climates and developing an automated control system for indoor vertical hydroponic farming, in order to allow them to operate economically longer or year-round. (File photo)

Two Shuswap businesses get federal research funds

Okanagan College researching food sustainability and better climate control for greenhouses

An Okanagan College research initiative involving two Shuswap companies is among more than 94 projects nation-wide that are being supported with $45 million from the federal government’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The funding was outlined at a press conference in Ontario, and work on the research projects in the Shuswap is already underway.

The Shuswap projects are focused on technology in agriculture and improving economic sustainability for existing businesses. Federal grant money of $200,000 over two years is going to support:

• Research into means to reduce heating costs for greenhouses in cool climates, in order to allow them to operate economically longer or year-round (in partnership with Karen Dow, The Handmade Shoppe);

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• Research into development for year-round greenhouse using low-grade geo-thermal temperature control systems, either on-grid or off-grid (in partnership with Ernest Moniz, HighCroft Farm, Sorrento); and

• Developing an automated control system for indoor vertical hydroponic farming (in partnership with Karen Dow, The Handmade Shoppe).

Funding for the projects flows through the NSERC-administered College and Community Innovation Program.

“On campuses across the country, colleges are building exciting research opportunities and at the same time helping companies enhance their products and processes, bringing promising ideas to the marketplace,” said federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, as she announced the projects. “With research areas ranging from advanced manufacturing to artificial intelligence, the projects being funded today will have real-life benefits for all Canadians.”

Okanagan College personnel involved in the Shuswap research include researcher Dr. Peter Janele and David Williams, who teaches in the Electronic Engineering Technology program.

“Local food security and a minimized carbon footprint is essential to resilient sustainability,” says Ernest Moniz, owner of HighCroft Farm in Sorrento. “Securing federal support and being able to work with an Okanagan College researcher and students to find ways to develop and operate geo-thermal year-round greenhouses is an exciting and valuable step in the right direction. We look forward to being part of creating low cost and small carbon footprint, year-round food supplies for local communities in all areas of Canada.”

Related: Column: Meet and eat from your local farmers

“Part of the challenge in operating a hydroponic farm is to manage the systems involved in the most efficient manner possible. The project we’re engaging in with Okanagan College researchers and students will help us develop an automated control system that ensures optimal air and water management for an indoor farm that is going to grow tomatoes, strawberries and lettuce commercially. Being able to tap into the college expertise with support through this grant is a real benefit for us.”

“This is research that demonstrates how Okanagan College can bring expertise and knowledge – and federal support – to bear on real world challenges and opportunities that will benefit business and impact the economic health of our region,” says Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton. “I’m pleased this work is focused in the Shuswap and am looking forward to seeing what the results are. Important to us is the fact there are OC students involved, bolstering their education with research experience.”


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