High-tech BioPods growing more than food in Newton

Fresh starts and food production technology inside Surrey BioPods

Nick Brusatore shows off his invention inside Surrey’s BioPod.

NEWTON — Walking into the twin high-tech BioPods next to Newton’s John Volken Academy is like stepping into the future. The future of food production, that is.

A silver robot holds strawberry plants on its dozens of spinning arms.

A second robot acts as an alarm system that’s activated the second a plant is in trouble (under stress from pests, diseases or deficiencies).

Another gadget pulls water from the air.

Even the structures themselves are innovative.

“It’s kind of like a big experiment,” explained Larry (pictured), a recovering addict in the Volken academy who led a group of other students in helping set up the project. It’s a partnership between the JVA, the University of the Fraser Valley and the City of Surrey.

Forget glass, said Larry during a tour, these greenhouses are covered in plastic.

“The whole BioPod is matted in a dual-poly cover. That means there’s two types of plastic, one on the outside, one on the inside, all around the BioPod.”

And it’s insulated by air.

Larry proudly explained the students did everything “from the tables to the beds to the gravel… We had a start in it from day one.”

But their work isn’t done.

While the BioPods will now be a testing area for new technologies, they will also serve as a training ground for these student farmers. Those in recovery at the neighbouring JVA are able to receive certification from UFV.

Larry said it’s empowering for all the students to “actually get credits to do something with their lives.”

And what better way than with plants?

“You’re taking care of something that’s alive,” he remarked. “In many recovery aspects they say you can’t have a relationship with anybody else if you can’t keep a plant alive for a year. Well here, you can say, ‘I did that so I’m ready to move on.”

The crops grown in the BioPods will be sold next door at the Price Pro supermarket or be used in dishes prepared at the academy just steps away, shortening farm-to-table time to just a few minutes, instead of days.

Then there’s the tech.

The robot holding the strawberries is called a vertical mechanical growing system, explained inventor Nick Brusatore with Affinor Growers.

The contraption uses 1/1,000th of the typical amount of required water, he explained. It does it all – catches the water, waters the plants, then recycles it.

And growing the soil indoors means no fumigation costs, he said, which can run up to $10,000 an acre for strawberries.

It also allows for self-pollination, he explained, “so in the event of bees… deceasing, we’re going to be OK for a lot of different types of species.”

Brusatore said consequences are inevitable as the world grapples with water depletion, global warming and cell mutation.

“The world is going to need people to grow this food because there’s a shortage of people capable of understanding what to grow. The people that are going to grow food will be driving the Lamborghinis in the next 10 years.”

Brustatore said if 5,000 people ate just $5 of produce for 30 days that translates to $75,000 a month.

“If you think about 10 billion people, we don’t have the ag space on the planet to deal with it and we certainly don’t have the water. I can guarantee you that,” said Brusatore.

Twenty four of his towers can produce $1.2 million in product a year, he noted.

Mayor Linda Hepner is delighted Surrey’s vision has come “to fruition,” noting “agri-innovation” is a focus for the city and is part of its Agricultural Protection and Enhancement Strategy.

The Investment Agriculture Foundation is the majority funder of the BioPod project with integral support from JVA, Affinor Growers, and the City of Surrey. The project is one element of the BC Agriculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) at UFV, a network of leaders in agriculture from BC post-secondary institutions.

“UFV is proud to partner in work that reflects our commitments to research, education and service that directly benefit the economic, social and sustainable development of our Valley. Agriculture is not only a major employer and economic driver of our region, it is an industry that contributes billions of dollars to the provincial economy,” said Mark Evered, UFV president.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

Just Posted

Cloverdale Rodeo finishes with thousands in prizes, Will Senger memorial

Overall, more than 21,000 people came to the rodeo over the four days

Arrest made in last week’s double shooting in East Van

Carleton Stevens, 37, is charged with attempted murder and remains in custody

2018 Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair Round-up

Looking back on the community events, rodeo and country fair that took place over May long weekend

Delta police ask for help to find missing senior

Howard Venus was last seen at 10:45 a.m. on May 20 at Delta Hospital

RCMP warns public after woman allegedly groped in Newton

Officers appealing for any information that may lead to a suspect identification

VIDEO: After the floods, comes the cleanup as Grand Forks rebuilds

Business owners in downtown wonder how long it will take for things to go back to normal

Rachel Notley to skip premiers conference to focus on pipeline deal

Kinder Morgan has ceased all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline project until it receives assurances

B.C. tech company will power Uber Elevate

Moli and Uber announce research and development partnership.

UPDATE: Woman dies in ocean accident near Tofino hours before daughter’s wedding

“We are so thankful to everyone who helped our mom.”

Olympian sues USA Swimming, saying it failed to protect her

Ariana Kukors Smith alleges her former coach Sean Hutchison began grooming her for sexual abuse at the age of 13

Defence minister thanks troops for B.C. flood relief work

Harjit Sajjan says not only was military response quick, support from locals has been ‘tremendous’

Couple survives being buried in mudslide on B.C. highway

The couple, from Saskatchewan, were en route to Nelson when a tree fell in their path

‘So grateful:’ Injured Bronco hockey player glad he’s alive, works on recovery

Ryan Straschnitzki was badly hurt in the accident: a spinal injury, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, and punctured lung

PHOTOS: Floodwaters rise and fall in Grand Forks

The flood-ravaged Kootenay-Boundary region begins to heal

Most Read