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Sowing the seeds of success

At a glance
Where

Calgary, Alberta

What

Social enterprise focused on urban agriculture and sustainable landscapes

What sets them apart

Aims to establish sustainable food networks in Calgary

Link to Mitacs

Founder was Accelerate intern in 2013

When Calgary entrepreneur Adam Huygen comes across lush, green lawns or deserted lots in urban neighbourhoods, he sees things. Kale, cabbage, potatoes, squash, onions, microgreens, tomatoes, raspberries, rhubarb, zucchini, the list is endless.

Adam is the brains behind the Eden Project, a unique social enterprise with a mission to offer local, organic produce at competitive prices.

“Global food systems are changing due to a variety of stressors, and food prices are climbing. We believe that urban agriculture and locally-grown food will play an important role in future food supplies as our societies adapt to these changes,” he explains.

A seed was planted

While completing a Master’s of Science in Sustainable Energy Development from the University of Calgary in 2013, Adam was living in a condominium in a bustling urban neighbourhood. Every day, he walked by an abandoned corner store next to his building. “I called the owner and got permission to plant a garden on the property. I began to sell the vegetables I harvested at local markets and I met other urban farmers,” he said.

At the same time, Adam was undertaking a Mitacs Accelerate internship with Suncor, an energy company focused on oil and gas, wind power and biofuels. There, he worked with a team looking at energy storage options, researching their cost, technical suitability and potential suppliers. “During my time at Suncor, I was exposed to a company that lived its mission and values,” he explains. “I also gained valuable experience in a business environment.”

Over the winter, Adam thought a lot about creating a business focused on urban farming. “Calgary isn’t the first place you’d think of when it comes to growing vegetables outdoors,” he admits. “I researched what crops work in this climate; for example, kale can handle frost and freeze solid and still survive. Not to mention that it’s highly marketable with low water requirements.”

Taking the first step

On May 1, 2014, Adam took a leap of faith and launched the Eden Project. To provide stability to the business and generate consistent revenue, he decided to offer sustainable landscaping services focused on organic lawn care as well as garden design and maintenance.

“One of my key business strategies is to derive income from multiple complementary streams to bring resiliency and competitive advantage,” Adam explains. “By combining secure income from an established landscaping industry with urban agriculture, the Eden Project can work towards reducing the cost of local, organic food to compete with incumbents on price.”

Inspired by his Mitacs internship at Suncor, Adam thought carefully about the Eden Project’s mission and values and ensures that the company lives them every day.

“We strive to provide local, affordable and sustainable food in Calgary,” he explains. “Our fourth value is education; we believe in sharing what we learn about urban agriculture with our customers and fellow urban farmers.”

Adam takes education very seriously at the Eden Project. “I always encourage our landscaping clients to try their hand at growing their own food and we’ll customize our services to meet their needs. For some clients, we design and plant their farm garden and leave them to it. For others, we maintain the garden and they simply harvest the vegetables,” he explains.

“Teaching people how easy it is to grow their own fruits and vegetables is key to our business.”

C is for collaboration

The road hasn’t been without its bumps; urban farming is a new concept for most. But Adam navigates the challenges along the way by growing relationships with local urban farmers and sharing best practices.

“I try to strike a balance between cooperation and competition,” he says. “By collaborating with other businesses and customers at the local level who share my values, I hope to develop locally-oriented solutions to food security. I see cooperation as key to establishing a local food industry that rivals the global industrial food system.”

However, the key to the Eden Project’s success just might be Adam’s passion and the fact that he believes that this is what he was meant to do. He echoes the words of Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking: “Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow,” Adam says.  

 


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, along with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland & Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan for their support of the Accelerate program.