Communities on the move: Cochrane’s Smart Village project takes shape
Vertical Farming, Data Mining, Bitcoin, Northeastern City Has ‘A Lot of Pokers in the Fire’
The town of Cochrane has reached some key milestones in its efforts to become a fully sustainable community, said the head of a Toronto-based development corporation.
KPGI’s Mark Kealey said his group, along with partners Cochrane Board of Trade and the Indigenous Critical Infrastructure Fund, now expects to make an announcement in the coming months regarding major investments in the “Smart Village” project. .
“We’ve been talking to two vertical ag tech companies, one Indian and one Canadian, who are very keen to set up shop here,” Kealey said.
“They see that not only is the community really, really open to this, but it makes perfect sense for what we’re trying to do with the amount of land we have.”
A key part of becoming a smart village is establishing a regional agricultural network, Kealey said, by shortening the supply chain, which helps reduce reliance on importing food from Mexico or the United States.
Cochrane, with its “millions of acres” as Kealey describes it, is the perfect place to settle.
“With this, we could envision the development of vertical farming throughout the North,” he said. “So I could see an active industry where you’re ready for four [harvests] each year of leafy greens and vegetables.
“If you think about it, in the context of how you bring fresh fruits and vegetables to market, it will fundamentally change the way people live, eat and eat for the next 10 years.”
Another building block for the future is the creation of data mining centers, sites that host servers where cryptocurrencies are generated or large amounts of data can be stored.
“We have a pending announcement on an integrated global system [company], I’ll call it an off-grid energy provider, which would also be very, very interesting,” Kealey said. “It’s green technology, which I think will fascinate people.”
“[Cochrane] is wired for it,” he said. “When you think of Cochrane Telecom Services, CTS, they’ve done a tremendous job of connecting the whole community, and it’s wired from Cochrane all the way to Toronto.”
The foresight dates back to the mid-1990s, when communities set up communications infrastructure in hopes of attracting call centers. Although the allure of attracting these large, low-paying call centers has worn off, the critical technology networks remain.
It is these connections, Kealey said, that will facilitate easy transfer of data to large urban centers, which due to density issues and population growth may not have the square footage to house data storage facilities. associated data.
“It’s a very interesting innovation and, and an integral part of what really serves the Smart Village moniker for a place like Cochrane,” Kealey said.
But the combination of these elements—a third pillar is the creation of a medical travel destination, which would help remote Indigenous communities access services—requires huge buy-in from community leaders.
This is where the Cochrane Board of Trade took the lead.
Board member Rheal Cousineau, who has helped Cochrane weather economic ups and downs over the past decade, said the key to success in a project like this is getting the right people involved. in the community.
“I call it ‘having a lot of pokers in the fire,'” Cousineau said. “People might say ‘why don’t you just focus on one?’ but the dynamic can change very quickly on a project like this.
Cousineau’s own background in agriculture, having run the family farm for decades before entering the insurance business, means he is well-positioned to help advance the vertical farming side of the Smart Village project.
But he’s also keen to make sure he helps facilitate connections between the different groups of people who could potentially get involved.
“This project has many elements. There’s agriculture, there’s the science side, there’s the (data mining) side, there could be a forestry side,” Cousineau said.
“Right now the biggest is of course, this bitcoin,” he said. “It has become very popular. A data center is sort of in the foreground. But vertical farming is very close to that.
There is also the possibility of attracting hydrogen production to the region, Cousineau said, and even charcoal farming.
“But if you get a phone call…and [investors] say, ‘I think the money will be available in the next two weeks for this project’ then this project becomes the first priority, it is in first place next week.
Where development projects in the past may have taken months or years to get off the ground, Cousineau said behind-the-scenes movements in the Smart Village vision have the potential to move at the speed of light.
“The secret in business is good running shoes,” he said. “You have to be able to move sideways, up and down, almost like a basketball player. Act very quickly on some of these things.
“As a group you have to be very fluid about it. But you have to be very determined. »