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Couple bringing vertical farming to Downtown Guelph after winning free store space

Noki Farms will sell fresh produce in an indoor retail space

It’s the first time Downtown Guelph will have an indoor retail space where customers can walk in and have fresh produce harvested right in front of them. 

After winning the Business Centre Guelph-Wellington's Win This Space business pitch competition, biotechnicians Nykole Crevits, 29, and Karl Fellbaum, 34, who founded Noki Farms, are set to move into a new space in Downtown Guelph this fall. 

“We’re still kind of in shock,” said Crevits. “It still hasn’t fully set in.”

It was a whirlwind of emotion over the past month and a half the program was running.

The couple won a space downtown with discounted rent for the first year along with $20,000 at BCGW’s first ever Win This Space competition in partnership with Downtown Guelph Business Association and Invest in Guelph.

Noki Farms is one of three businesses that competed in a virtual business pitch event on April 13. The event was the culmination of nearly three months of business development, training and coaching for all participants.

“We know the hard work starts now,” said Fellbaum, adding that the couple is currently in talks with landlords of retail spaces in the downtown core to determine which space they will settle into. 

He said the idea of Noki Farms came to them when the two found themselves at home with extra time on their hands during the pandemic. 

“We have busy minds and we always have to keep our hands busy with something so we thought ‘Hey we don't have our yard space to garden, so let's just grow mushrooms inside,’” said Crevits.

In the early days of the pandemic, the two made multiple trips to home improvement stores and picked up scraps and with trial and error, successfully created a vertical farm from scratch that included panels and lighting. 

“It’s like a Rube Goldberg machine and it ends up with mushrooms,” laughed Crevits.

The two entered the competition because they felt they had the experience to compete, believed their product would work and were excited about the training. 

“We were willing to do the work, it was just a matter of being taught what the work is,” said Crevits.

Noki Farms will be growing and selling mushrooms, micro-greens, leafy greens and herbs in the store using vertical farming technology. With no travel costs or time, Fellbaum stresses the freshness and virtually non-existent carbon footprint of the product. 

“At normal grocers when you buy food, that food travels an average distance of 2,400 km which is an incredible distance so by cutting the middlemen what we’re able to achieve a near net zero carbon footprint,” said Fellbaum.

“You walk in, it's a deli style serving system where you can see all the products growing in front of you and we serve it by weight.”

Crevits said that when a customer enters the store, the produce is still growing.“You can be like I want 100g of that and a handful of this and we’ll harvest it right in front of you so it's the freshest it can possibly be,” she said. 

The duo said it plans on introducing the community to new and niche products such as Lion's mane mushrooms, edible flowers, oyster mushrooms — which aren’t sold in grocery stores because of their short shelf life and delicacy once they’re harvested —  which are are fresh, intact, have a more distinct taste than button mushrooms and high nutritional value. 

“We’re going to be using our biotechnology degrees and our university experience to really maximize the cleanliness of our store and the sanitary aspects of the store,” said Fellbaum adding that the store will have the vertical farms, controlled humidity chamber and racks for micro-greens ready to be harvested at any given time. 

With their downtown location. The duo is excited to offer unique products to sustainable living, even complementing the offerings of the Guelph Farmers’ Market.

Fellbaum said the two got tremendous support from the community from the owner of Fungal Jungle, a local mushroom producer shop, providing mentorship or how to cultivate their own  mushrooms to the Guelph Tool Library providing essential tools they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. 

“We didn’t grow up in Guelph but I’d like to think we kind of grew into who we are living here,” said Crevits who grew up in a small town near Port Stanley and met Fellbaum in Conestoga college who grew up in Sudbury.

“I came here 10 years ago for university but I've been in Guelph pretty much ever since. I was in Kitchener for a few years, that’s where Karl and I met.”

Kristel Manes, executive director of BCGW said a business like this has never been seen in Downtown Guelph. 

“It sort of speaks to a grocery level and it's certainly going to be engaging and interesting when people walk by to see this beautiful wall. And it's all done by science,” said Manes. 

“I think certainly the idea of vertical farming in a retail location is pretty cool.”


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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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