Space-Age Farming: Compact System Yields 700kg Food Annually

In a remarkable feat that promises to revolutionize food production both in space and on Earth, Vancouver-based Maia Farms and Ecoation have clinched the grand prize from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Impact Canada. Their innovative growing system, a compact powerhouse capable of producing a staggering 700kg of fresh food annually within the space confines of a wardrobe, has won the Deep Space Food Challenge, a competition aimed at developing technologies to sustain astronauts and improve food accessibility in challenging environments.

The Deep Space Food Challenge, initiated in 2021 by NASA and the CSA, was conceived to find solutions that could provide food for a crew of four astronauts over a three-year mission without resupply. The challenge also sought to address the pressing needs on Earth by improving food accessibility in urban centers and extreme environments, maximizing food production with minimal resources, and ensuring a variety of safe, nutritious, and palatable foods that require little processing time.

The innovative CANGrow system, a collaboration between Ecoation and Maia Farms, is a testament to the ingenuity required to meet such demanding criteria. Operating on standard 120-volt power and easily connectable to a regular three-quarter inch garden hose, the system is a model of efficiency and adaptability. It features four chambers designated for growing a variety of crops, including dwarf tomatoes, strawberries, and lettuce, through hydroponics or aeroponics. Adjustable LED lighting, a development of Ecoation, which was founded by Maryam Antikchi and Dr. Saber Miresmailli in 2010, ensures optimal growing conditions. Ecoation is renowned for its expertise in autonomous climate control and machine vision-based crop management technology, which is integral to the system’s success.

The fifth chamber of this modular system takes innovation a step further by cultivating protein-rich mycelium. This is achieved through a process of biomass fermentation in UV-sterilized bioreactors, a specialty of Maia Farms, which was founded by Gavin Schneider and Ashton Ostrander in 2021. Adding to the system’s sustainability, waste is processed in an accelerated composting chamber developed by Lomi, ensuring a closed-loop, waste-minimized operation.

Back on Earth, Maia Farms is pushing the boundaries of the burgeoning mycoprotein industry. Their biomass fermentation platform is said to yield significantly higher outputs compared to other mycoprotein producers who utilize various mold-type strains. Maia Farms has chosen to cultivate mycelium from an edible mushroom variety, a strategic move by cofounder and CEO Gavin Schneider, as the fruiting body of this mushroom has been consumed for centuries, potentially simplifying the regulatory pathway for their product.

The mycelium produced boasts an impressive 66% protein content, along with substantial fiber, iron, and calcium. It has already caught the attention of Canadian food manufacturers, such as alt-meat producer Big Mountain Foods. Schneider, fresh from securing pre-seed funding, envisions a future where their mycoprotein will be available as a pure product by 2025, contributing to a variety of food applications from meat alternatives to children’s nutrition.

Maia Farms’ manufacturing process is currently in partnership with a co-manufacturer in Saskatchewan, but plans are underway to expand and explore other fermentation CDMO operations. The company has taken steps to protect its innovative approach, filing patents covering their unique bioreactor design, production processes, and the various feedstocks and species they can utilize.

This victory in the Deep Space Food Challenge is not just a win for Maia Farms and Ecoation but a promising development for sustainable food systems. As the world grapples with food security and the need for resilient agricultural practices, the CANGrow system stands as a beacon of hope and innovation. With the US winner of the challenge set to be announced in August, the advancements in this field continue to unfold, potentially heralding a new era of food production both in the far reaches of space and here on our own planet.

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