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Space tech that feeds high-end diners in Toronto could help Canada’s North

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Technology being used to stock high-end Toronto restaurants with designer leafy greens could provide Northern Canadians with locally grown produce.

That’s the view of academic experts and entrepreneurs involved with a high-tech vertical garden housed in an east-end Toronto warehouse.

“We’re going to grow food using light recipes to make economic food, to make food cost-effective” says Amin Jadavji, “and I think that’s the North story”.

Jadavji is CEO of We the Roots, a company he co-founded in 2017 with six others, including celebrity chef Guy Rubino.

Recently, the federal government increased funding for shipping food to Northern Canada and expanded the Nutrition North program. That move comes as advances in hydroponics and LED lighting coming from research to grow food in space are expanding the prospects for northern farming. 

Amin Jadavji, CEO of We the Roots, says vertical farms can produce cost-effective food, including in Canada’s North. (James Dunne/CBC)

The vertical farm of We the Roots is a commercial test of the new tech. The most traditional farm-like thing about it is the pickup truck parked outside.    

The structure inside a former factory is roughly 14 metres long by three metres wide and four metres tall. It houses from 15,000 to 20,000 plants at a time. “We’re growing wild Italian arugula, mizuna, which is a Japanese mustard green, Tuscan kale, basil,” Jadavji says, “and a little bit of cilantro.”

See how hydroponic technology grows vegetables:

The operation is hydroponic and almost entirely automated. Water in the system carries nutrients and is recycled.

Plants are nested in trays and stacked seven layers high, each one under strips of LED bulbs. The bulbs provide a tailored light combination (cool white, green, deep red, ultraviolet, far red), created to bring out specific qualities in the plants, changing their size, texture and even taste.

Then there’s the nutrition factor. “We can increase things like calcium and phosphorus and various vitamins by as much as 50 per cent just by changing light recipes,” says Jadavji.

Young plants nestle inside the We the Roots vertical farm. The system features custom LED lighting from a company called Intravision. ( Yan Jun Li/CBC)

The system at We the Roots is the first commercial use of a concept developed by the University of Guelph in collaboration with a Norwegian company called Intravision, says Jadavji.

The university’s Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture program, which focuses on trying to grow plants in hostile environments like space, began using Intravision’s LED lights in research.  That developed into a stacked system that both light and water flow through.

Though this technology was created to help feed astronauts of the future, the first customers are already enjoying lunch and dinner at five upscale Toronto restaurants, including Parcheggio.  

In the hierarchy everything clicks into place with this product, which is awesome.— Andrew Piccinin, Parcheggio executive chef 

Parcheggio’s executive chef Andrew Piccinin dropped romaine lettuce from his salad menu after California’s E. coli problem.  With greens from We the Roots, he doesn’t worry about E. coli because hydroponics aren’t vulnerable to the same contamination.   

Besides safety, he loves that the greens are flavourful, local, and environmentally friendly. “In the hierarchy everything clicks into place with this product, which is awesome.”

Chef Andrew Piccinin of Parcheggio displays his ‘Nonna’s Salad,’ an old family recipe made with arugula grown in a new high-tech vertical farm. (James Dunne/CBC)

Vertical farming is part of a recent explosion in urban agriculture, a broad agriculture practice that dates back to ancient Egypt.

According to the United Nations, urban agriculture doubled from the early 1990s to 2005. Now, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says 800 million people in cities are growing fruits and veggies or raising animals, accounting for 15 to 20 per cent of the world’s food.

Vertical farming operations are a leading part of the trend.    

Analysts suggest the vertical farm market will shoot up to $13 billion US a year by 2024, from just under 1.8 billion US  in 2017.  

Though vertical farming has seen some high-profile failures in Vancouver and Chicago, entrepreneurs and investors see fresh opportunity.  

Aerofarms’ massive vertical farm in New Jersey is not hydroponic, but aeroponic. It uses less water by spraying plants with mist instead of soaking the roots. (Aerofarms)

CBC News reported on a massive investment in the sector in 2016. Inside Aerofarms’ large 6,500-square-metre facility in New Jersey aeroponics are used, spraying plants with mist instead of submerging them in water. The farm has the capacity to produce two million pounds of food a year.

In Canada, McCain Foods invested in a Nova Scotia vertical farm company called TruLeaf in the spring of 2018.

We the Roots plans to expand its Toronto operations next year. Jadavji is also opening two new farms, one about 135 kilometres from Toronto and one in New Jersey, each of them 1,850 square-metre facilities to produce 1.3 million pounds of greens per year.

Going big isn’t the only way to get into vertical farming though.  

Tiny turnkey vertical farms built inside shipping containers can be seen in cities such as Victoria, Calgary and Dartmouth, N.S.

 

Plants are densely packed into vertical towers inside the Very Local Greens container farm on the waterfront in Dartmouth, N.S. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Container operators can grow from 3,000 to 5,000 plants and sell at farmers’ markets and to restaurants and caterers. Prices for container farms range from just over $50,000 to more than $200,000.

American container farm makers have clever names like Freight Farms and Crop Box, and Canadians are doing the same with brands such as Growcer and Modular Farms, which sells new custom containers.

While many vertical farms are in large cities, Ottawa-based Growcer has six of its high-tech containers in Alaska and three in Northern Canada, with systems in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Kuujjuaq, Que., and Churchill, Man.  Another system is going to Manitoba and one to Yellowknife as well.

Growcer’s vertical farm in Churchill, Man., is made from a repurposed shipping container. The operator supplies stores, restaurants and individual or families with a weekly subscription. (Carley Basler)

Its units are insulated to function in temperatures as cold as –​52 C. Growcer CEO Corey Ellis says the company began in 2015 deeply concerned about improving the supply of fresh food in the North.

It was the high food prices in the North that also gave the company a buffer period to improve its technology. The company was able to win Northern customers as it was working to lower operating costs.

“It was a great testing ground because you know with a $7 head of lettuce that’s on the shelf before we show up,” says Ellis, “we knew that if we could even do a $3 head we would be doing well.”  Ellis says Growcer’s systems have advanced so much some units can match wholesale prices of greens from California.

It galls me, quite frankly, to think this Canadian technology will find its first expression in a large scale pilot in the deserts of Kuwait.— Mike Dixon, University of Guelph 

Experts believe it’s time to try large scale vertical gardens in the North.  

University of Guelph professor Mike Dixon is frustrated technology from the school’s space agriculture program isn’t being used to help address Northern food security.  

University of Guelph Prof. Mike Dixon believes large vertical gardens can help provide food security in Canada’s North. But he says, ‘It galls me, quite frankly, to think this Canadian technology will find its first expression in a large-scale pilot in the deserts of Kuwait.’ (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

We The Roots wants to try the system Dixon helped create in the North, but it will be tested in extreme heat before severe cold. Why? Because Kuwait is willing to invest in it.

“It galls me, quite frankly,” says Dixon, “to think this Canadian technology will find its first expression in a large-scale pilot in the deserts of Kuwait.”

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Majority of Canadian workers willing to take less pay for a workplace pension plan: survey

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A majority (70 per cent) of Canadians say they’re willing to forgo a higher salary in exchange for a workplace pension plan, according to a new survey for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan by Abacus Data.

The survey, which polled more than 2,000 Canadian adults in April, signals an opportunity for employers to build back the post-coronavirus pandemic working landscape better by expanding access to good retirement plans — whether they’re defined benefit, defined contribution or group registered retirement savings plans, says Steven McCormick, senior vice-president of plan operations at the HOOPP.

According to the survey, a secure retirement remains of greater concern for Canadians than concerns about their health, debt load and job security. McCormick says this has been a consistent worry the HOOPP has seen in survey results over the past couple of years. Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents said they’re very concerned about having enough money in retirement, while 31 per cent were highly concerned about their personal debt load and 26 per cent cited their job security. Close to half of respondents expressed high concerns for their physical (43 per cent) and mental (40 per cent) health.

In addition, the pandemic has harmed the finances of more than half (52 per cent) of Canadians’ surveyed and it’s had a particularly disproportionate affect on the finances of younger adults. Adults aged 44 and younger said they’re twice as likely (25 per cent) to have had their finances greatly harmed, compared to those over the age of 60 (12 per cent).

Generally, younger adults tend to work in roles that may have been impacted most by the pandemic, says McCormick, whether in service industries that were shut down or frontline health care that have been busy but don’t always come with access to a pension plan. “Affordability is an issue, so I think their worries increased during this time.”

And while almost half (46 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they’ve saved more money than they would have since the onset of the pandemic, among these respondents, over half (52 per cent) didn’t put any of their savings toward their retirement. Overall, most (63 per cent) Canadians surveyed haven’t set aside or saved anything for retirement in the past year, a five-point increase since 2019.

McCormick says this may be due to uncertainty or hesitancy about whether people’s immediate needs outweigh longer-term needs. And with 55 per cent of respondents noting they were very concerned about the cost of day-to-day living, he adds that rising prices have fuelled insecurity and worries so people are creating their own emergency funds right now.

While there’s a segment of the population who’ve saved more and, for them, the pandemic has created wealth, he doesn’t see this as a common narrative in the survey data. “If you don’t have access to a workplace pension or the opportunity to have things like automatic enrolment, the uncertainty of the time may have you holding onto money,” says McCormick. “In Ontario, we’re more optimistic about the pandemic than we were maybe a month ago, but there are still people worrying about whether there’ll be a fourth wave.”

In addition, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said a retirement crisis is looming and 65 per cent said saving for retirement is prohibitively expensive. It’s a common and shared dream for many people in looking forward to a secure retirement, says McCormick, noting for many, making that dream a reality remains elusive.

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What Canadians need to know about moving to the U.S. for more affordable real estate

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Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1395756831100882947&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-2&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1397895446048169985&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

“We as a country can do better,” said Makos.

But not so fast if you’re like any of these people and thinking of moving across the border. There are a number of things to consider.

Immigration rules for moving from Canada to the U.S.

The first thing to consider is immigration laws. If you work from home, you can’t just grab your laptop and start working from the U.S.

Sara Herbek, managing partner at Global Immigration Associates, says you need a U.S. employer to sponsor you and be qualified for a TN or L-1 visa.

“If a Canadian employer has a U.S. entity, this could potentially be another option, however, it depends on the visa category,” Herbek told Yahoo Finance Canada.

It’s the same deal if you plan to work for a U.S. employer.

“Canadians are able to present TN and L-1 visa petitions at the border (now by air is recommended versus by land),” said Herbek.

“In other visa categories, the employer would need to file the visa petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and obtain approval first.”

Herbek says it’s important to have all of the correct paperwork when entering the U.S. to avoid being turned away.

“They should ensure they have original documents when appearing at the border: approval notice, as applicable, educational documents, birth or marriage certificates,” said Herbek.

Mortgage rules for buying a home in the U.S.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a home outright, you’ll need a mortgage and things are mostly similar to obtaining a mortgage in Canada if you’re moving to the U.S. permanently, but with some key differences.

Rob Mclister, mortgage editor at RATESDOTCA says one of them is proof of income.

“It may be harder to prove income to the U.S. lender’s satisfaction if you have already moved to the U.S. before applying for a mortgage,” Mclister told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“That’s because most mainstream U.S. lenders generally want to see at least two years of U.S. tax returns. If this is the case, find a good broker in the U.S. to advise you.”

If you plan to buy before your immigration and job situation are sorted out, Mclister says most lenders will want 20-25 per cent down instead of the 5 per cent minimum in Canada.

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Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, Fastest Rate of Growth Since 2010

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Canada is experiencing a real estate boom, and it’s fueled by a flood of cheap mortgage debt. Bank of Canada (BoC) data shows mortgage credit reached a record high in April. That’s no longer a surprise since it’s a regular occurrence, but the rate of growth is noteworthy. Canadians added the equivalent of 6% of GDP to mortgage debt over the past year. It’s now growing at the fastest rate in a decade, as people scramble to buy as much house as possible. 

Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, After Growing 6% of GDP

Canadian mortgage debt reached a record high, adding a massive amount in just a short period. The balance reached $1.69 trillion in April, up 1.06% ($17.74 billion) from the month before. The annual increase works out to 7.80% ($122.25 billion), which is just a mind-blowing number. For context, $122.25 billion is the size of ~6% of the country’s GDP. With this kind of scale, it shouldn’t be a surprise how dependent the economy is on real estate. 

Canadian Residential Mortgage Debt

The outstanding dollar amount of residential mortgage credit held by Canada’s instituional lenders.

Canadian Mortgage Debt Is Growing At The Fastest Rate Since 2010

The rate of mortgage growth isn’t just high for this period — it’s high by historical standards. The annual rate of growth is the largest seen since 2010. For the month of April, you need to go a little further back — to 2009. Usually, during a recession, it’s difficult to get households to borrow. In Canada, households ramped up the borrowing and purchases of expensive goods.

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