From Hydroponic Spinach to Acclaimed App, Innovation Keeps Growing at Durham Foods

Monday, February 22, 2016

Jim Sheehan shows finished spinach product ready for shipping in his greenhouse outside Port Perry Ontario April 26, 2013. Photo provided by Jim Sheehan

Durham Foods has once again proven that their innovative roots dig deep. Not only is the family-run business breaking ground (or water, rather) by growing spinach hydroponically in Port Perry, but their team has now created the “GAP app”, for which President Jim Sheehan accepted a Leadership in Innovation Award in 2015.

An engaging, electronic format of the CanadaGAP forms — the national food safety program for fruits and vegetables — the GAP App has simplified the many exhaustive records and manuals that food producers and processors must maintain for food safety and traceability certification. Once a significant cost and time-consuming task, this innovative spinach producer has taken the manuals from CanadaGAP and translated them into a user-friendly app – as Sheehan has said, taking the process into the 21st century.

“[W]e got paperwork out of the greenhouse and made food safety part of the everyday work flow,” explained Sheehan.

Users can swiftly enter information in real-time, with helpful prompts for the day’s required activities. The app also generates reports, making audits easier on the mind and wallet.

“Canadians are known around the world as leaders in food safety,” said Sheehan. “Our high quality products and attention to detail in the food safety chain truly set us apart from other countries.”Durham Food photo

As the only commercial producers of hydroponic spinach in North America, Sheehan and the team also won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2011. Durham Foods prides themselves on growing their hydroponic spinach in a safe and pesticide-free greenhouse environment. The Grower explains how Sheehan de-risked contamination throughout the seed-to-harvest process:

“Their well water is tested before it comes in contact with spinach seeds and a mechanical harvester has been developed so that no human hands touch the produce. From planting large spinach seeds into rafts that float on nutrient-rich water, Sheehan can monitor plant health over the 18 days until harvest. From several 900 square-foot pools, he can reap 500 pounds of spinach.”

With the impressive innovation and forward-thinking that continues to emerge from Durham Foods, the notion that spinach is brain food is beginning to seem more and more convincing.

Lifting board during Harvest - Durham Foods photo“We are very pleased with our success and would like to thank all of the partners who have helped along the way. This was truly a collaborative effort by many, many dedicated friends and professionals,” shared Sheehan.

Have you developed and implemented a unique product or process that helps foster innovation in Ontario’s agriculture and food sector? The province is currently accepting applications for the 2016 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.