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Historic Brandon building being converted to indoor farm

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A heritage building in Brandon is getting a second life thanks to new indoor farming technology.

The McKenzie Seeds building in Brandon was built in 1910 and has been a provincially-designated historical site since the nineties.

Now, a company called Brandon Fresh Farms is using new technology to convert the 113-year-old building into an indoor vertical farm.

"It's a very exciting opportunity to innovate and renovate a historic building in downtown Brandon," said Gerald Cathcart, Director of Economic Development for the City of Brandon.  "It's also an excellent opportunity to bring in sustainable food production to our city."

Brandon Fresh Farms president Adam Morand said the farm will also bring new jobs to Brandon.

"Once we're fully operational with the facility at McKenzie Seeds building, we'll be doing about 20 to 30 full time jobs, and probably 50 to 70 part time jobs to fill in the shifts," said Morand.

Morand is excited to begin work on converting the historic complex. "It is a phenomenal building, or set of buildings, with excellent bones as we would put it," he said.

The 120,000 square foot space will grow crops of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and much more. It's expected to produce more than 180 metric tonnes of food per month.

A vertical farm grows crops in stacked layers using controlled indoor environments, often making good use of empty spaces such as used shipping containers or vacant office buildings.

The POE devices run all the environmental sensors, lighting, water pumps, everything having to do with the grow operation. (Source: Brandon Fresh Farms)

The project will cost around $30 million, but Cathcart said it's expected to inject more than $48 million into Brandon's economy.

"The second piece there is the produce that they're producing is most likely to be sold locally," said Cathcart. "So rather than seeing consumers' grocery dollars spent on imported produce, we're going to have that money circulating back right within Brandon."

Cathcart added that food grown at the farm can be on grocery store shelves within 24 hours of being harvested.

Vertical farming is not a new concept, Morand says people have been doing it for years. But he said Brandon Fresh Farms will be using new technology developed by Agriplay Ventures, another company founded by Morand.

"It's a network of devices, low power computing devices, that all run on power over Ethernet or POE technology," he said.

The POE devices run all the environmental sensors, lighting, water pumps, everything having to do with the grow operation.

"The technology was developed to farm anything, anywhere, anytime, local, making full advantage of underutilized real estate," said Morand.

Work is slated to begin in January, with the facility expected to be fully operational by 2025.

- with files from CTV's Kayla Rosen

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