“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into innovation.”, Dean Kamen
Middlesex County agri- and agrifood producers have one of the highest rates of technology adoption in Ontario and all of Canada.
Whitecrest Mushrooms Ltd. is a family owned and operated farm near Putnam, in the heart of Southwestern Ontario. They employ 43 full-time people in the business of mushroom farming and grow about four million pounds annually which they sell mainly in Ontario. They also grow five acres of Artic Kiwi for the local market.
While talking about the processes at the farm, Murray Good further explained, “Through one of our operating companies, Mycionics Inc, we are developing a robotic harvesting system to harvest our mushrooms on the farm. This project employs 21 engineers from all robotic disciplines. Below is a link to a video showing the system at work harvesting our mushrooms.
We are also working on many other processes to reduce energy, including a Pyrolysis project to process our spent substrate into biochar for a peat moss replacement.”
Innovation does come with a price tag, and that’s where Community Futures Middlesex (CF Middlesex) comes in. The Good family approached CF Middlesex initially in 2012, and then again in 2020. Good explains, “We approached CF Middlesex for the $100,000 small business EDGE loan with no payments for a year and a half. We used this to build and develop a farm store.” More traditional loan financing was accessed to assist with completion of their expansion.
Good said, “Without CF Middlesex and the delayed payment loan, we would have had to delay the build for two years as we had just finished our farm expansion, which cost eight million dollars. The repayment structure of the EDGE loan at the time alleviated the risk of the new endeavor as it is payment-free for 1.5 years. This gives us better cash flow and improves the chance of success of the project.”
Good Family Foods Retail Outlet is located on the farm property and sells Whitecrest Mushrooms and Arctic Kiwi berries (in season), as well as mushroom burgers of various sorts, all developed by Whitecrest Mushrooms in partnership with VG Meats of Simcoe. The retail outlet also sells other mushroom products, and other locally produced and developed items, including soups, flowers (in season), popcorn, and lots more.
Expansion of the mushroom farm and addition of the retail store allows Whitecrest Mushroom to support the local economy and community and helps generate employment opportunities locally. They also support two local hockey teams in Dorchester, as well as the high school robotics program at Lord Dorchester Secondary School.
There are many more big ideas in the works or at least in the planning stage. Good enthuses, “Robotic mushroom harvesting, spent mushroom recycling through biochar (carbon sequestration), peat moss recycling from our casing layer with local soil blenders, recycling our exhaust air to capture BTU’s to cool or heat our incoming air, these are some of the ideas we are looking into.”
Elaborating further Good says, “We want to use our waste heat and CO2 to grow strawberries and wasabi in a greenhouse located on the farm and develop a system to create sanitizers and cleaners from electricity, salt, and water (HOCL). This process would allow us to eliminate chemicals in our growing process, which would allow us to recycle our wastewater back into the plant. There are many ways we can make our growing process greener and more energy efficient too.”
When asked about the role of CF Middlesex in supporting their business, Good said, “The loans are very well structured for the needs of business. CF Middlesex and the team there truly understand the needs of local businesses and are able to bolster and support them and the local economy and job markets.”
Good concluded saying, “Great job! Great people! Great experience!”