Vertical veggies

A vertical farming operation similar to this is planned for an Okanagan Falls industrial park. 

Vertical farming could be what finally helps a light-industrial park take root in Okanagan Falls.

Avery Group purchased the 110-acre former Weyerhaeuser mill site for $3.2 million in July 2020, and this week received tentative rezoning approval from the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

The application, which would down-zone the site from its current heavy-industrial rating,  is now set for a public hearing March 18.

At the heart of the redevelopment plan is a 30-acre lot on which Avery Group wants to build a vertical farming facility, in which rows of crops would be stacked on top of one another in a warehouse-like environment.

“This really is the future of agriculture,” said Monique Janower, senior marketing and strategy director for Avery Group.

Potential crops include lettuce and leafy greens that vertical farming operations around the world had parlayed into a $2-billion industry as of 2018, according to Forbes Business Insights, which projects the market will expand to $12 billion by 2026.

The rest of the land at 1655 Maple St. would then be subdivided into lots ranging from 2.5 to 15 acres for a variety of uses, ranging from storage and food packaging to beverage processing and light manufacturing.

Janower, who cautioned there are still many regulatory hurdles to be cleared, said there has nonetheless been “tremendous interest” from potential buyers due to the relative rarity of new industrial land and the site’s central proximity to Alberta and the Lower Mainland.

Avery Group is owned by Garry Peters, who has deep ties to the area, according to Janower, so the company appreciates the site’s context within the community.

“We understand we’re not just creating bricks and mortar,” said Janower. “It’s very much tied to regional economic development of the area.”

The rezoning application already has the support of RDOS staff and a key community group.

“Rezoning of the property could potentially bring an influx of new and growing industrial businesses to Okanagan Falls,” Matt Taylor, president of the Okanagan Falls Community Association, wrote in a letter to the RDOS board.

“This in turn could lead to additional employment, a need for more residences and even more tourism. These factors would all contribute to and support the community.”

Since the 2007 closure of Weyerhaeuser, the site has been the subject of multiple development proposals, including an industrial park, residential development and, most recently, a cannabis production facility.

If rezoning is granted, Avery Group will then apply for the RDOS development permit required for the vertical farming operation. At the same time, it will apply to the B.C. government for subdivision. If all goes well, the company expects the park to be open for business in 2022.