The unsustainable state of the Canadian food chain coupled with the rising costs and declining nutritional value imported produce means that it is imperative that Canada reverses the decades old trend in increasing reliance on foreign grown produce. The good news is that with current technology there is no reason that Canada can not be a leading exporter of highly nutritious produce — high value crops, competitively priced.
In 2010, total vegetable imports including fresh, dried, frozen and processed were $2.87 billion and are going up each year. Canada imports over 53% of its vegetables and almost all of its fruit and is therefore dependent on the production of other countries.
In the last 15 years, food imports costs have risen 160% while the population has risen only 15%. Consider these statistics for the year 2010:
In 2010, the total area planted in Canada with vegetables destined for the process market was reported at 35,063 hectares, a decline of 12.2% (from 39,936 ha) from 2009. If this continues we may lose the ability to produce many of the foods we commonly eat as a population.
Many of our grocery dollars end up in other countries, while small farms in Canada are disappearing at an alarming rate. During the second half of the 20th century, Ontario paved over 49% of its prime farmland.
The vegetable greenhouse industry in Canada grows mainly tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and peppers. Still, far more of these are imported than produced in Canada. In 2010, these imported crops were valued at $223.6 million of a total of Canadian imports measuring $2.87 billion.
The average distance that fruits and vegetables travel to market is 4,497 km. Vegetables and fruits are bred for longevity in transport and not for nutritional value. Imported food can take weeks to arrive in Canada, losing much of its nutritional value along the way.
Locally grown food can be delivered in hours. Canada should produce more fresh food at home and import only when necessary. Canadians will choose Canadian produce if it’s available.
Imports: No Controls
In 2010, Canada imported $2.87 billion in fruits and vegetables. Each person consumed an average of 53.72 kg of fruit and vegetables that year. Canadians eat 38 billion servings of fruits and vegetables each year. There are no consistent or effective controls on the amounts of insecticides, herbicides, bacterial parasites, and heavy metals found on, and in, imported produce.
In 1991, the US produced 1 billion pounds of pesticides, of this, 25% were exported because they were too deadly to use in the US. These pesticides (herbicides and insecticides), however, come back to the US and Canada on produce – this has been referred to as the “Circle of Poison”. Often pesticides fail to simply wash off. To most effectively clean produce they should be soaked in a mild solution of vinegar or dish soap to remove these residues.
Pesticide use is rising each year and the pesticides are becoming deadlier. In 2007, the U.S. produced 5,085,000,000 million pounds of pesticides, or 13.3 lbs. for every person in the U.S.
Also, prices and availability of imports are variable throughout the year. In contrast, Starfield Centre will be able to guarantee pure salad and herb produce, year around, at consistent competitive prices.
The quality of imported produce depends on the quality of the irrigation water used in agricultural production, which in turn is reflected by the environmental condition of the region where the produce is grown. In Mexico, black water (raw human sewage) is used for agriculture in some areas, while in China, water pollution is so extreme that there is no hope food chain can remain untainted.
Starfield Centre plants are healthy, strong and products originating from them have an extended shelf life compared to similar crops grown on soil-based farms. Anecdotal evidence points to 1 week plus. Imported packaged salads can be expected to last 3-5 days.
Many organically grown products barely last 2 days before turning brown and going soggy. Organically grown plants do not last as long as plants growth with standard fertilizers, and definitely not as long Starfield Centre plants.
With the roots off, Starfield Centre plant produce can stay fresh for over 2 weeks in a refrigerator. With roots on, no refrigeration is required.
To give a sense of pricing comparison, a survey of prices was conducted in Vernon, B.C, on May 19th 2013. The average price of bagged and cello pack salad produce was $6.04 for a 10 oz. equivalent unit in the large chain grocery stores. The Starfield Centre equivalent average price would be $4.56 if the products would be sold from a Store Agency of Starfield Centre. Because the production yields are higher, Starfield Centre can offer its products profitably at competitive prices.
A pure water irrigation base allows us to grow crops that are free of dangerous bacteria, viruses, and heavy metals. For example, sprouts rely on a constant rinsing of water, and many sprout producers have dropped out because of contamination problems.
Better than Organic Foods
Consumers will eventually realize that organic crops are grown in soil which no longer has sufficient mineral nutrients and is often polluted with E. coli and Salmonella. A lack of minerals in plant foods makes them almost useless to eat, except for the fibre. Because of the lack of minerals, the shelf life of organic produce is often less than 3 days.
Starfield Centre doesn't use traditional soil and grows crops with 43 minerals in recycled irrigation water. This grows healthy produce every time, in any season.
Year Round Production
Starfield Centre is local, operates year round, and uses renewable energy. Our growing methods allow us to grow a new crop every month of fresh green vegetables. Because we can control production costs and minimize energy costs, we can sell affordable fresh food all year. Products from Starfield Centre will be competitive with field grown produce whether local or imported so that the communities we operate in will have a reliable source of fresh local produce.
Lower Costs of Production
Costs of production are low in our greenhouses when compared to soil methods.
We do not use: pesticides, fumigators, herbicides, fungicides, algaecides, soil sterilization agents. Nor do we use attendant equipment such as soil steamers, sprayers, rubber aprons, breathing filters, “space suits” for pesticide spraying, planters, weeders, tillers, discs; tractors, tractor parts and fuels; field trucks, ploughs, shovels, hoes, rakes, protective clothing, and soil or media moving equipment, which are in common use in one way or another in the greenhouse and farming industry and represent additional costs for our competition.
All cost savings are the result of environmental controls, the design of our system, and our location.
Long Crops vs Short Crops
These crops represent 95% of the production from greenhouse food industry crops grown in Canada. Greenhouse production in Alberta consists of about 50 commercial operators, of which 95% are in the Southern Alberta.
Starfield Centre specializes in short crops which have little or no greenhouse grower competition because greenhouse growers are few and most of the short crops are field grown and/or imported. We have developed techniques to grow short crops on a continuous basis.
The biggest bagged salad and fresh vegetable competitors of Starfield Centre include: Fresh Express, Dole, Mann’s Sunny Shores, and Earthbound Farms. According to USA Today, market share in the bagged salad industry at a national level are as follows: Fresh Express (41%), Dole (31%), Private Label (12%), Ready Pac (8%) and Earth-Bound Farms (6%).
Their products are mainly grown in California and Mexico. There doesn’t seem to be a price leader in the overall market. Each company offers prices within a few cents difference of one another. Also, each company seems to package their products either in a 5.5-6.0 oz or 12 oz. bag or a rectangular plastic container (cello pack).
Starfield Centre packages salads in clear bags containing 10 oz. which is generally higher than current offerings. The contents are not washed, because they are grown in clean conditions with no soil, no herbicides and untouched. Washing often spreads harmful bacteria if the wash water is contaminated. We infuse the bags with nitrogen and cool the bags to increase the shelf life.
Traditional Soil-Based Farms
Soil based farms are seasonal and subject to weather and climate. There are no assurances that a crop will grow. This may be the reason why Canadian soil based farms are shrinking in acreage each year. Farmers can’t afford the risk of growing a crop.
Between 2001 and 2006 the area of Canadian farms shrank by 6%, while the population and demand for fresh vegetables rose. The same thing could be said between 2006 and 2013.
The demand for fresh pure produce is rising. In the past, this demand would be filled by existing farms. But today we are facing new, long term, and threatening conditions that are restricting the supply. Production of food on farms is threatened by population expansion, land damage and exhaustion, urbanization, energy shortages and water shortages and climate change resulting in storms, droughts, and changing rainfall patterns.
Serious alarms are going off in every one of these areas and books are written about each one. These connected forces effect everyone – some more directly than others all over the world. Danger levels have already been reached as evidenced by hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and heat waves. The changes we are experiencing are globally unprecedented in human history and are having a massive effect on agricultural production. Starfield Centres are designed to survive climate change and continue to grow as our production is protected & secure.
Produce production and processing for the whole continent is now centralized in California, Mexico, and Central America. Because the fresh produce market is multi-billion and growing, there are enormous market pressures on these areas to increase production. However, the ability of these areas to grow vegetables is declining because of the lack of clean irrigation water, urbanization of farmland, rising fuel costs, global warming and climate change, drought, rising labor costs, polluted irrigation water, salinization of farmland, fiber and mineral depletion of farmland, and rising transport costs.
But, the demand keeps growing. To insure production, pesticides are being used in growing amounts.
Centralized farming, often based thousands of miles from customers, is facing rising costs of growing and delivering fresh food. Other problems faced by these methods of farming are:
Certified Organic Produce
People are justifiably concerned about the quality of their food which has led to the rise of the Certified Organic movement. Farms use insecticides and herbicides (both referred to as pesticides) to insure a “profitable” crop. But they are poisoning the food chain and causing illness and death. Herbicides are also being used in combination with genetically modified plants. This has led to the rise in popularity of “organically grown” produce.
Experiencing the most growth in 2009, organic fruits and vegetables, which represent 38 percent of total organic food sales, reached nearly $9.5 billion in sales in 2009 in the U.S., up 11.4 percent from 2008 sales. U.S. statistics are mentioned here because Canada imports most of its fruits and vegetables from the U.S, and next Mexico.