Eric Lang, Founder and President of ZipGrow Inc. in Cornwall has a philosophy that works well for him. “Embrace change and make it work,” he says with confidence. “I like opportunities and I will find a way to make them work. When I’m in, I give 100%.” Eric speaks from experience having started and sold four successful businesses in the past, including an international brokerage for recycled plastics and a plastic recycling business – the first of its kind.
His current business ZipGrow Inc. came about unexpectedly when a local farmer approached him for a loan to set up a container farm (an indoor vertical farm that operates inside of a repurposed shipping container). Container farms are capable of yielding produce efficiently within a compact space using hydroponic systems and artificial lighting in a controlled environment.Having grown up on a large farm that used traditional farming methods, Eric saw an opportunity to change the future of food for the better through agricultural technical advancements and education.
Two of the biggest problems farmers face in cold weather regions is the short growing season and their dependency on the weather. Container farming would allow them to take farming indoors. Eric thought it was a great idea! Being the visionary that he is, Eric saw how indoor farming could potentially change the quality and accessibility of the food supply system.
Sometime around 2016-17, ZipGrow Inc. took shape. Today, the facility at 650 Cumberland Street in Cornwall manufactures and installs vertical hydroponic indoor farming systems for large commercial farms as well as hobby farms. “We assemble and ship ourZipGrow™ Towers around the world,” says Eric who readily admits to loving the travel perks of his job. “The next farm I’ll visit is in Halifax; I’ve been to Egypt, and next month Thailand.”
Food security is an issue that affects people all over the world. “In many cases, COVID was the instigator,” says Eric. “Consumers were seeing empty shelves in some stores as deliveries slowed and gas prices rose. When you consider that produce travels an average of 3000 kilometers or more to reach consumers in North America, and by then it is 10 days old, it becomes a reality that food prices will continue to increase as fresh produce becomes scarcer. We have to find a better way to do this.”
One solution is to grow food closer to stores. In-home growing is another way. We also have to educate our children for the future. Eric speaks proudly of the program ZipGrow offers through the Upper Canada School Board that teaches kids how to grow food year round in the classroom. “We also created Upstart University online for students who want to become skilled hydroponic growers on their own time. It gives them online access to comprehensive guides, e-books and PDF Courses. We also offer a week of training at our facility to anyone who wants to start their own farm.”
There are many advantages to indoor hydroponic farming. Essentially, it allows outdoor farming to come indoors where plants can be grown year round in a controlled environment. “Growers are not limited to leafy greens,” Eric says, “they can get into different produce like strawberries, and foods typically grown in other countries, as well as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant to name a few. The hydroponic grow system allows us to create whatever climate the plant requires, for example, humidity. We use LED lights, which are adjustable to fit the needs of the plant.
We often hear consumers complain that produce like lettuce and tomatoes is bred specifically to withstand distance and travel time. Because of this, they end up being tasteless. Those same consumers are pleasantly surprised to find the produce grown by local farmers is tastier and more nutritious. This is not public news yet, but at ZipGrow, we plan to start selling our own produce locally. Consumers will get to judge for themselves the difference in taste.”
Asked what ZipGrow’s biggest concern is right now, Eric was quick to respond. “Our financial institutions do not understand hydroponic farming. Standards are very important to them and our concept does not fit the mold. Our method involves planting without soil and this raises questions in their minds about taste and value. This makes it very difficult for our customers to get financing.”
ZipGrow’s mission is to design and manufacture the most economically viable, resource efficient and productive hydroponic equipment possible, while educating and supporting the ZipGrow farming community. “Unfortunately, we don’t always get the reception we’d like from the general population who think our company is a cannabis store. I would like the community to know that our company is world renowned and that ZipGrow has become the main company in the hydroponic field.” This is no small feat for a business tucked away in a corner of Eastern Ontario!
It will take time and perhaps more involvement for ZipGrow to earn the respect and recognition the company deserves from the community. “Sometimes we get so busy running a business that we forget how important it is to develop a relationship with the community,” Eric admits. In the meantime, he and his dedicated team will continue to work towards building a better food system where everyone has equal access to the highest quality, environmentally and economically sustainable produce possible.
If you would like to learn more about ZipGrow Inc. and their complete line of products, visit wwwzipgrow.com or call 855-947-4769 to arrange a tour of the facility.