Success Story

Durham Foods


Durham Foods' President Jim Sheehan.

Spinach is a notoriously finicky field crop. Canada’s tumultuous climate only allows growers to yield 1-2 crops per year, resulting in the need to import over $100 million of the leafy vegetable. Traditionally, spinach has been unsuitable for indoor growing because of its susceptibility to fungus. But an innovative Durham-based company has engineered a way to avoid this by growing spinach in water, and without using any pesticides or fungicides.

Durham Foods is the only company commercially growing hydroponic spinach in North America. By creating an optimal environment to grow indoors, the company’s spinach tastes even better than field-grown. But its next challenge was to increase the volume of spinach produced. To speed up the production process, the company collaborated with Durham College on an OCE Voucher for Innovation and Productivity (VIP) project to develop an automated spinach harvester.

The project outcome was a spinach harvester that gets 30 per cent more spinach off the pond in a fraction of the normal time. Because they never touch human hands, crops are protected from contaminants such as E. coli, ensuring food safety for consumers. The harvester allows Durham Foods to yield 18 or more crops per year, up to three times more than field growers in California, a leading exporter of spinach.

Durham Foods markets its hydroponic spinach at Metro, Loblaws and Sobeys locations in the Durham and North York regions, where its superior taste has created a high demand by customers. The family-run business is continuing to work with Durham College and OCE to refine the harvester and develop other supportive technologies for growing hydroponic spinach.

Return on Innovation

  • Projects hiring 4-6 full-time employees over the next two years
  • Potential to establish Ontario as a leading exporter of safe, year-round greens
  • OCE investment: $19,962

OCE©2015 Last updated 10/2015