In partnership with the Guelph Food Bank, Urban Stalk’s innovative hydroponic technologies will help provide local community with fresh produce year-round. 

Brent Downey grew up in a situation where he never knew where his next meal was coming from. Raised by a single mother with two kids, the family often did not know how they were going to afford food. When he hears about people in similar situations, he understands where they are coming from and empathizes with their feeling of hopelessness and despair. Brent was granted the opportunity to study abroad for school and received a scholarship into a master’s program which allowed him to study in France, Korea, and Western Canada. He was able to see how circularity and circular economics work around the world and focused his thesis on the Chinese context, namely how circular economics can revert some of the environmental and social issues the country is facing. Brent looked at circular economics from the Chinese perspective and amalgamated it with food and agriculture; a leading industry for circularity with notable environmental gains.  Through his studies, Brent created Urban Stalk, a technology-enabled hydroponic system, to contribute to the circular food economy in a way that could help alleviate poverty in resource-scarce countries. 

To bring his business to the market, Brent worked with a mentor from Innovation Guelph’s Startup Program to help understand regulations and develop his product. Here, he discovered the Seeding Our Food Future Project and knew it was the perfect opportunity to further explore circular food economy-related opportunities. Urban Stalk partnered with the Guelph Food Bank to help address food insecurity through the COVID-19 pandemic. The project for Seeding Our Food Future has been grouped into phases for their product launch. Phase One includes a “chamber micro-controlled environment” that can manipulate and simulate a specific climate for optimal plant growth. These chambers can recognize over 120 hydroponic suitable crop types and adjust the atmospheric controls like lighting, C02, and water nutrient intake using AI and automated technologies. The chambers range in size and can be anywhere between 1,000 square ft. for smaller-end industrial clients and be 5,000 square ft. for larger clients. Urban Stalk is exploring technologies that will enable the chambers to be stacked on top of each other so clients can utilize high clearances.   

Phase Two looks at the automated technologies (automated seeding apparatuses, robotic arm technologies, and automated sheering technologies) inside the chambers. The company will be able to harvest produce inside each chamber and send it through a conveyor belt system that would take the harvest material through the pipeline and be able to separate the organic waste from the end harvested produce. The final product would go into a washing and packaging delivery system which would be automated. The sheers, roots, and similar items will go into a reuse system known as a digest infusion system. This means they will take all the discarded wasted food material both internally from Urban Stalk and externally from their clients and break it down to the compound ionic level, so they are left with a soil membrane. Urban Stalk will then use that bio digest infusion and put it into the seeding apparatuses so they can create an organic membrane that is customized down to the nutrient level for a specific seed type. This waste management system will reduce the amount of organic waste going to landfills thus decreasing a client’s carbon footprint and lowering overall greenhouse gas emissions. The Urban Stalk system allows them to have complete control over and manipulation of everything in the atmosphere, and reduce the amount of airborne, waterborne, and soil-borne diseases (e.g., e. coli) in the water, and eliminate pests and pesticides.  

The partnership with the Guelph Food Bank has been extremely valuable for Urban Stalk as it has allowed them to view the world through a not-for-profit lens and develop a technology that matches the needs of the community. The Guelph Food Bank’s focus is on helping people and Urban Stalk wants to have this type of technology available to them so they can help people gain access to nutritious food. The Guelph Food Bank has helped Urban Stalk understand their business model and develop a corporate social responsibility avenue to micro-tailor their systems to fit a food bank’s needs. These systems will make it easier for food banks to access fresh produce with minimal inputs. It is no longer that we “should”, but it is that we must make a change to safeguard our environmental impact and social responsibility more than we did in the past.  

For Brent, circularity is looking at how we can better reuse within the food system and the sharing economy of waste. It is key that businesses start using waste that can be reused repeatedly and ultimately divert waste from our landfills. Brent states that if we cluster our wasted and discarded products together, transforming products within supply chains will become more efficient. He believes that is the beginning of amalgamating humans back into our natural environments that we have irresponsibly grown out of. He also mentions that if we can share resources as a community in an equitable and circular way, it will not just be the few that will benefit from the economic and social gains, but it will be all of society. 

 

Photo by davehan2016 on Pixabay.