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Let’s eat! This lettuce producer keeps it local

With two farm locations, Truly Northern Farms produces California-free, pesticide-free and drought-proof hydroponic greens for the local market

The growing price of lettuce on Sudbury shelves is no problem for Truly Northern Farms, based here in Greater Sudbury.

The mark-up price of lettuce is so dire due to a combination of heat waves, drought, torrential rains and a widespread outbreak of the impatiens necrotic spot virus that has resulted in limited supply. This has left restaurants and grocery stores grappling with how to get those fresh greens to the table at a reasonable price.

Truly Northern Farms does things differently and more locally.  

It relies on a hydroponic growing system with farms based in Blezard Valley, as well as a modular farm they rent in Opasatika between Kapuskasing and Hearst.

Erin Rowe is a part owner of Truly Northern Farms.

The farm consists of Erin and her husband, Stephane Lanteigne, a business partner and one worker, who assists with harvesting twice per week, especially with kale that has been sold at Smith’s Markets since 2017.

“Both farms use a different system, Rowe said. “One (uses) a zip grow tower which acts as a living wall, while the one up north uses a rack system with styrofoam to grow lettuce with the roots just touching the water.”

Two farm locations produce romaine lettuce and a greens mix, along with basil, bok choy, pea shoots, swiss chard, radish sprouts, broccoli sprouts and the list goes on.

Currently, they are producing 90 kilograms of romaine lettuce per week.

The farm began in 2017 as part of a cooperative under the name Smart Greens, but that didn’t pan out and they felt they spread themselves too thin with two local farms.  

In 2019, they were offered another farm building to rent up north to grow hydroponic greens under the name Truly Northern Greens, which is what stands today.

Erin says her husband spends 75 per cent of his time at the Opasatika location. On Thursdays, he returns with fresh produce and they begin all their deliveries between Hearst and Sudbury to restaurants, grocery stores and stocking their farm store.

Rowe and Lanteigne also secured a government grant to erect an old hickory cabin and refurbish it with heat and wiring to turn it into a self-serve farm store that operates seven days a week, 24 hours per day in Blezard Valley.

“The farm store, which has security cameras, has our greens, but it has more than that,” Rowe said. “There is northern beef, pork and chicken. There is farm fresh eggs, mushrooms, maple syrup, honey and jams. We stock Saucy Pete’s sauces, Perogy Princess food and pickled products along with local jerky.”

Truly Northern Farms also makes weekly Saturday appearances at the Sudbury Farmers Market with lettuce and other greens in tow.

She serves as the board chair for the market, which has quadrupled in size throughout the pandemic, so she has connections to the local merchants and brings those products to “the Shed” as its called.

“Realistically, everyone should be buying things like lettuce locally,” Rowe said. “We pay our workers a fair wage. They are not working for pennies like in California. 

“Our products might be a bit more expensive, but they also have a three-week shelf life instead of a three-day one. There are no chemicals either. It’s even better than organic greens because we don’t use any pesticides whatsoever,” Rowe said.

Erin intends to practise what she preaches with big plans for the Blezard Valley property.

She wants to make the acreage 100-per-cent edible.

“We want to add clover for dry teas, vegan honey with raised beds for strawberries, haskap bushes, blueberry plants and blackberry bushes,” she said. “It’s all part of the master plan.” 

Truly Northern Farms and its hickory farm store can be found on Regional Road 15 between Chelmsford and Val Caron.

The store is under surveillance and open 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

The farm can also be found on Facebook.

Anastasia Rioux is a writer in Greater Sudbury. Let's eat! is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.