Urban farming is still unfamiliar to many people, but maybe even more unexpected is indoor urban farming. The term ‘farmer’ can be misleading because the public notion of farming includes picturesque hills in the distance. According to Vanessa Hanel however, “a farmer is just someone who grows food”. Vanessa happens to be one of Calgary’s shining examples of a successful urban farmer, though she refers to herself primarily as a small business owner. She is the brains, brawn (and beauty!) behind micro yyc, a farm dedicated to growing microgreens and shoots indoors.
Vanessa found herself in farming after completing her business degree. Vanessa says she had no intentions to become a farmer, but always loved growing things and was involved in the horticultural club during her studies. She then interned on a farm where shoots were a small side project in the greenhouse. Vanessa started experimenting with growing shoots in her home and micro yyc was born.
Vanessa clearly takes great care in her work. There is an obvious level of love and appreciation for the little greens. Micros are a unique form of food production. They require a carefully maintained indoor environment. The short growing cycle and high turnover rate allows for experimentation and optimization on an expedited time-line. Although there are numerous advantages to this form of food production, there are also challenges that accompany this scale and time frame, namely the high cost of inputs. To name a few:
- Micros require countless hours of manual labour -- a major expense to growers like Vanessa.
- Managing humidity in an enclosed, indoor environment requires the right ventilation system -- an expensive upfront investment to get it right.
- The short turn over time means high demands for soil and seed. Considering that trays are re-seeded every ten days, seed can become quite costly.
- The cost of electrical for lighting is yet another consideration. Microgreens need 12+ hours of UV light each day.
Meticulous management is important in this small-scale environment where the cost of inputs needs to be carefully calculated. Micros are considered a high value product, and they are, due to the extensive and expensive inputs required.
My experience at Micro YYC re-enforced the reality of farming today: farms can be found in a variety of spaces and may be indoor, outdoor, rural, urban, mechanized or manually managed. For Vanessa it is this diversity of farming models that build a stable and more resilient food system and she is proud to play her part in it.