After University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) horticulture student Nayla Charbonneau’s powerpoint presentation to her class about her latest project, students headed up to a coffee maker to get a cup.
Coffee in a university classroom, pretty normal.
But this is not your usual coffee, this is coffee that Charbonneau painstakingly harvested, prepared, dried, roasted, cooled, ground and then brewed.
All from beans grown right here in Chilliwack. The coffee Charbonneau brewed in class was likely some of the first ever grown in the Fraser Valley.
The coffee plants were grown in UFV’s high-tech greenhouses at the Chilliwack campus near the Vedder River.
“We can grow anything,” UFV associate professor of agriculture Tom Baumann says.
“Anything that is grown anywhere on the planet we can grow. We can control the environment completely. We can grow things cold. We can grow them hot. We can grow dry. We can grow humid.”
Inside the humid vertical greenhouse after sampling coffee in the classroom, Baumann shows visitors on a recent tour the coffee plants, which are growing alongside many other things you would not expect to see in the Fraser Valley let alone anywhere in Canada: papaya, guava, orange, lemon, tea.
“This is teaching opportunity for people that want to go other places than just Canada. The principles apply: If you have a greenhouse, you can control the environment you can do anything.”
As for the coffee, this isn’t the first time Baumann’s students have grown the plants but it is the first time a student was so proactive to process the beans.
|University of the Fraser Valley horticulture student Nayla Charbonneau squeezes a bean out of the red skin of a coffee cherry. (Greg Laychak/UFV)|
After harvesting the cherries, as they are called, the beans are individually squeezed out of the skins. Then the seeds are laid out to dry at room temperature overnight. Once dry, a paper-like coating had to be peeled off the beans, then they were roasted on the stovetop at 500F while stirred constantly.
Once roasted they are laid out to cool, then ground and brewed. For all her work, Charbonneau got less than a pound of coffee but the point was education rather than commerce.
Most of this processing work in the coffee industry is now done by machines, but much coffee is still picked by hand in Third World countries. Going through the procedure from cherry to cup really illustrated to Charbonneau just how much goes in to making that daily beverage that so many Canadians rely on and maybe take for granted.
Standing in a greenhouse in 2019 in British Columbia talking about how they can grow any plants in the world, there is one plant it’s hard not to talk about. The multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry has been in full force even before full legalization as a result of the medical cannabis market. But with legalization, the sky is the limit and a university horticulture campus seems like a good place to learn about what is looking like a gold-rush type industry.
“There are lots of jobs and some of the students are very interested,” Baumann said, adding jokingly, “I won’t point them out.”
Of course, growing cannabis in a greenhouse with such an ability to control the climate is certainly possible. In cannabis production, cuttings are done in a really humid climate, then growing is done in a less humid climate, then when it comes to switching over to flowering, drier is needed or the plants will get powder mildew.
“We can do anything in the greenhouse and this is the beauty of this.”
Practically speaking it can be done, but getting cannabis plants into a university setting would require a lot of permissions and security. It likely won’t happen at the university, but they may be able to grow at another location in the future so students can learn.
Greenhouses across the Lower Mainland have been converting to cannabis growing for some time, a reality that is somewhat concerning to Baumann, if not so much in the long run.
“It worries me in one respect, that we won’t get the locally grown fresh fruit and veggies coming out of the greenhouses,” he said. “We might see higher prices for our veggies.”
But at the same time, the industry is booming so much that it may level off down the road, and more greenhouses are being built all the time.
“I’m not too worried about it in the long run.”
As for teaching cannabis growing in a university setting, that’s just the new normal for a long-time farmer.
“It is an important industry right now. I may be older, but I still need to keep up with jobs for the students.”