Located 25 kilometers north-east of Peterborough, Ontario on a mainland peninsula and on Fox Island overlooking two magnificent lakes, Buckhorn Lake and Chemong Lake is the vibrant Curve Lake First Nation.
The community is currently in the late developmental stages of a commercial aquaponics project combining aquaculture and hydroponics in the same greenhouse facility.
Curve Lake First Nation first embarked on this business endeavour in 2019 by initiating a feasibility study late that year. The study focussed on different forms of aquaculture, species of fish conducive to aquaculture, where a facility could be located and whether adding a hydroponics unit in the same facility would be viable. The study determined that it was both technically and economically feasible and that the facility could be expanded to include a hydroponics component.
Once a direction was approved and supported by community members, a business plan along with a detailed design of the facility were completed during the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The Covid 19 pandemic caused significant delays since that time but most recently, activities related to the project have resumed.
Civil engineering and archaeology studies are getting underway and plans to bring in on-site utilities are on-going. Necessary financing and funding arrangements are taking shape but there is no set date for the start of construction or the beginning of operations. “Now that the pandemic appears to be getting under control, the project will move ahead with the development stage aimed at getting all the pieces in place prior to the first shovel hitting the ground,” said the community’s Manager of Economic Development and Tourism, Brandon Jacobs. Up to 15 community members will be employed during the construction phase of the facility.
The aquaculture and hydroponics components will each occupy approximately half of the square footage of the facility, essentially located side-by-side inside a one-acre, 45,000 square foot greenhouse structure located within the community of Curve Lake First Nation. They will be separated by a 24-feet wide corridor that will contain essentially storage, refrigeration equipment and freezers, a retail store, offices, washrooms, lockers, electrical/mechanical and a shipping space.
The business will be Band-owned and operated under the jurisdiction and authority of the community’s Chief and Council.
The RAS (recirculating aquaculture system) fish production area will be over 19,000 square feet and occupy three of the facility’s eight bays.
Fresh recirculating water pumped from a well will constantly be in movement throughout the RAS. Waste and nutrient controls, drum filters, bio-filters and geo-tubes will ensure water quality is maintained. Constant system monitoring is crucial for fish health. To that end, security and monitoring systems are key elements built into the business plan.
The community has decided that they will begin their aquaculture operations raising and harvesting barramundi, a white fish similar to sea bass. Barramundi is a popular food source among Australian Indigenous communities who’s name in an Australian Indigenous language means “large-scaled river fish.” It is also enjoyed widely in several Asian countries. It is a fish known for its delicious taste and texture. Barramundi is a new species being farmed in Ontario.
Many experts are predicting that barramundi will be the next white fish to be widely farmed within the Canadian aquaculture industry.
The community’s business plan is projecting the production of 275,000 pounds of fresh barramundi annually.
It will take three years following the commencement of operations to reach that objective but following that three-year growing and development period, the aquaculture segment of the facility will produce 275,000 pounds every year. The community has already received letters of interest from seafood buyers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The marketing strategy is to supply existing fresh seafood buyers within community’s market vicinity (GTA, eastern and southern Ontario, processors in Ontario (retail and food service sectors) and possibly, some out of province retailers who have demonstrated an interest.
Hydroponic operations will have a production area of close to 21,000 square feet. It will occupy the four remaining bays within the facility and will begin with the production of greens such as kale, lettuce, arugula and spinach as well as vine crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The community will focus on sales of fresh produce to local farmer’s markets and grocery chains.
Early indications are that there is an interest from produce managers to “buy local” on a consistent basis because of the low transportation costs and freshness of the produce. In addition to commercial objectives, the facility will also provide food security for community members.
The project will create 5-6 full-time jobs for those managing the facility and overseeing the facility’s production process.
Community members will also benefit from part-time employment opportunities, especially at harvest time. Brandon Jacobs says that one of the most important aspects of the project is that it will create opportunities for the community’s young people:
“Our people are our most valuable resource. Once our project becomes operational, it will provide long-term employment and training opportunities for the youth of our community that will prepare them to become future business leaders.”
Curve Lake First Nation is adamant on applying production methods that are sustainable and environmentally responsible.
The proposed facility will have “zero discharge” to the environment and will require minimal water consumption (10-15 gallons per minute) mainly because of the integrated RAS and hydroponic production systems. Environmental Coordinator Krista Coppaway says that protecting her community’s environment is a top priority: “We took great care at the conception and design stages to integrate into the business plan all measures to protect of our lands and water. This aspect is vitally important to our community as a whole.”
The project has generated a lot of excitement and anticipation within the community. Curve Lake First Nation’s stated vision is “self-sufficiency for the individual and for the community with a land base, an economy and infrastructure to meet the needs of the community.” This vision is on the verge of taking a giant step forward.
The community is grateful for the efforts of a former Economic Development Officer at Curve Lake First Nation Mindy Knott who started the project.
She was the first to have the vision and who continues to be closely involved in the progression of the project. The community also acknowledges and appreciates the professionalism of Waubetek Business Development Corporation whom have been by their side since day one. They are also grateful to the Northern Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (NICFI) program at DFO for their support.
Much determination and hard work has gone into the development of this aquaponics project which is leading to the creation of a sustainable agrobusiness that will be fully owned and operated by the community for the benefit of the community.
The leadership and the drive of the people of this community will soon become reality as their new aquaponics facility moves toward opening day which will be the first day of a great economic development endeavour that will benefit community members now and for generations to come.