Recovery Project/Plan

Vertical Farming 101 Webinar Series

Submitted ByRegional Municipality of Durham/York Region

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted consumer demand for domestically grown food and revealed gaps in the global food supply chain, leading to increased interest in growing food close to home. Controlled environment agriculture, which includes vertical farming, emerged as a viable alternative for year-round growing and resulted in higher-than-normal volume of economic development inquiries related to this topic.

To address the growing interest and to position vertical farming as an opportunity to support economic recovery, Economic Development staff from York and Durham Regions partnered with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) to deliver a first-of-its-kind Vertical Farming 101 webinar series in early 2022. This 4-part webinar series followed another successful partnership between York, Durham and OMAFRA to deliver a Specialty Crops webinar series in 2021.

Vertical Farming 101 focused on topics aimed at educating and providing industry-based insights:

  • Introduction to vertical farming
  • Applied principles of vertical farming
  • Navigating approvals process and permits for vertical farming
  • Community and academia partners for vertical farming

The webinar series was effective in establishing the evolution of vertical farming as a key tool to support economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vertical farming is at the cutting edge of the controlled environment agriculture industry and staff identified a knowledge gap around vertical farming market opportunities, technical requirements for growing and the various approvals required, particularly from a permit, licensing, and zoning perspective. The webinar speakers included subject matter experts, vertical farming operators (both small and larger scale) and post-secondary educators.

The series generated more than 430 registrations from Canadian and international audiences, demonstrating strong interest and high demand to learn more about the topic. A post-evaluation survey was sent out with 97% of the responses indicating that the webinar series either met or exceeded their expectations and more than 94% of responses indicated there was interest in attending future webinars on this topic.

The series was designed to address some of the most-asked questions by potential investors, farm operators, municipal staff, and post-secondary institutions. The post webinar evaluations indicated that most participants represented either government, academic institutions, or the industry (including those interested in vertical farming, those new to vertical farming or active producers/growers). Other attendees included non-profit organizations, technology/solution providers and consultants. A list of business resources was compiled and shared with participants along with video recordings and presentations.

Since vertical farming is an evolving sector, organizers strategically selected topics and speakers that could address the most relevant and timely questions related to vertical farming. The webinars featured an open question period where participants could ask specific questions and engage in dialogue with each other through the virtual chat function. Since the series took place over the course of 4-weeks organizers were able to make weekly adjustments ensuring the webinar was seamlessly delivered and content was relevant.