Fieldless Farms Inc. grows produce hydroponically through controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) in Cornwall, Ont. The fact they can grow leafy greens all year round, cost-competitively with imported products, opens the door a more secure Canadian food system.
We saw this coming revolution in agriculture and started to understand the possibilities of indoor agriculture,” says Jon Lomow, the food producer’s CEO and co-founder. “We have a real passion for Canadian food security and sustainable food systems.”
Today, Fieldless Farms grows four different kinds of lettuces and sells its product on the shelves of Ontario grocers including Cornwall success story Farm Boy. They grow their lettuces safely and efficiently, using renewable energy and CEA.
Their model is equally forward-thinking: it was developed specifically to displace imported produce from states like California and Arizona.
That was a big focus for us, says Lomow.
We designed the business to displace imports as opposed to competing with local farmers when they’re in season. And that’s been a huge part of our strategy from the beginning.
Annual lettuce imports are worth more than half a billion dollars in Canada and the vast majority of that comes from the United States. A safe and consistent supply, however, is hard to secure when there are climate events like droughts and forest fires, or other things out of Canada’s control like labour practices and safety standards, resulting in more frequent product recalls and related illnesses.
Since Canada has so many natural resources, the conventional wisdom has driven a focus on competing in the massive global food export market. Fieldless Farms looks at it the other way. There’s an opportunity, both economic and social, to replace a significant portion of the $49 billion of food that Canada imports. This not only creates jobs but also works to secure the Canadian food chain.
The CFDC provided an Equity Investment of $100,000 through the Community Futures Investment Fund to help them reach that goal.
They’ve been a great help to us,” he says. “They are an investor. They’ve been awesome at introducing us to the business community and helping us to navigate Cornwall.”
CFDC also connected them with Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care (PPRC), an organization that helps differently abled individuals find work. Lomow says they’ve hired half a dozen employees, many of which have been with Fieldless Farms from the very beginning:
We’ve had excellent success with that program.”
With help from PPRC hires, Fieldless Farms was able to launch its first farm in June 2020. They quickly attracted chain and independent grocers, which now provide a steady revenue stream and a foundation for future growth. They became fully operational this summer, right in the middle of a global pandemic.
Additionally, Fieldless Farms was connected to the Regional Relief & Recovery Fund, a fortuitous solution for a new company that couldn’t prove any drops in its revenue — since it didn’t yet have any.
With support from the governments of Ontario and Canada, CFDC has done a lot for Fieldless Farms: it’s introduced them to the municipality, brought their attention to government programs and presented them to the business community in Cornwall. According to Lomow, some of these are things they did not expect from CFDC and were happy surprises.
Cornwall was a strategic location for Fieldless Farms, because of its proximity to the 400-series highways that connected them to Canada’s largest concentration of population between Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. Being connected to the business community really made Lomow and his team proud to be part of the Cornwall community.
Fieldless Farms is currently working on its expansion to significantly increase the scale of its operation. Lomow says he hopes CFDC will continue to be a part of Fieldless Farms’ future as it reaches its full potential.