Horticultural and environmental research and education will have a new place to flourish in Niagara.
Niagara College has broken ground on a new, state-of-the-art greenhouse, which will plant the seeds for more innovation to benefit students and industry.
“It is an exciting time for Niagara College as we break ground on a new, cutting-edge greenhouse that will support advancements in applied research and new, hands-on student learning opportunities,” said President Sean Kennedy.
The site of the future greenhouse was recently fenced off behind the existing Teaching Greenhouse at the College’s Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and construction will soon be underway, scheduled for completion by March 31, 2024.
The new greenhouse will be a hub for the College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC), which aims to meet growing demands for applied research services from industry and, together with the existing Teaching Greenhouse, will provide an expanded learning environment and new opportunities for students in NC’s School of Environment and Horticulture.
One of four research and innovation centers within NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division, HESIC specializes in performing growth trials with horticultural crops that evaluate innovations and improvements. Currently, HESIC utilizes space within the NC Teaching Greenhouse, which is primarily used for academic purposes. HESIC offers extensive experience in innovations that are close to commercialization, including assessing technologies, production practices, packaging, media and pots, pest and disease control approaches, and more.
“The new greenhouse is a testament to the Niagara College spirit of innovation,” said Mishka Balsom, Chair of the Board of Governors. “The new facility will increase capacity for the College to meet the strong industry demand for horticultural research while providing new real-world learning opportunities for students.”
“I am very pleased that this incredibly important project will become a reality,” said John F.T. Scott, who served as chair of Niagara College’s Board of Governors from 2017-2020 and oversaw the initial conception of the project. “This new facility will significantly enhance Niagara College’s capacity for horticultural education and research, which will further solidify its position as a key driver of innovation and growth in one of Niagara’s core industries and Ontario’s key economic sectors.”
Next-generation greenhouse features
Once built, the 1,258-square-metre greenhouse will include a horticulture laboratory to meet research needs for HESIC’s industry partners, as well as a new vertical grow room to allow expansion into this area of research to expose students to vertical controlled environment agriculture.
“This new state-of-the-art facility will be a game changer for HESIC, as it strives to help our vital greenhouse industry innovate while growing new learning opportunities for our students,” said Marc Nantel, PhD, Vice-President, Research, Innovation & Strategic Enterprises.
Five individually contained bays will enable HESIC researchers to control temperature, humidity, and lighting in separate environments for applied research projects in a variety of configurations, as well as integrated pest management and growth trials.
Since 2014, HESIC has supported the horticulture and agriculture industry by providing close to 90 industry projects. With demand growing from companies of all sizes in need of greenhouse expertise, the new facility will open doors for HESIC to help more businesses – with 53 leads identified for projects in 2024-2025.
The next-generation greenhouse is expected to cost $9.4 million, including a $1,566,500 million investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, $800,000 from Niagara Region Economic Development, and a combined $1.8 million for equipment from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation ($892,807) and the Ontario Research Fund ($893,391), with opportunities for community members and other college supporters to participate in the project.
Growing opportunities for students
The new greenhouse marks a significant advancement of NC’s cluster of controlled growing environment facilities, complementing the existing NC Teaching Greenhouse and licensed cannabis cultivation and extraction facilities.
HESIC expects more than 125 students each year will participate in applied research and course-based projects in the new greenhouse, providing industry partners with a wealth of knowledge and competitive advantage.
“The new greenhouse facility will provide our students with greater access to greenhouse technologies and plant science innovations, paid research opportunities, engaging course-based projects, and valuable interactions with employers,” said Evan DiValentino, Associate Dean, School of Environment & Horticulture. “At the same time, major investments are being made in our Teaching Greenhouse. This development underscores the fact that NC is further establishing itself as a clear leader in practical, applied horticultural education.”
Greenhouse Technician graduate (2023) Gabriela Torres, who began working for HESIC during her first week of classes and has more recently been hired full-time as a research associate, applauded the news of the new greenhouse.
“With this new greenhouse, students will have a dedicated space that enhances their learning and work environment,” said Torres, who is originally from Brazil and now lives in Niagara Falls. “It will provide us with a better-equipped facility to conduct our research trials, expanding our capabilities to work more efficiently. I am excited about the future and the possibilities that lie ahead.”