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CANGrow claims the Deep Space Food Challenge's grand prize for a sustainable food system that could help sustain life on Moon or Mars

April 15, 2024

In an advancement for space exploration and sustainable terrestrial food production, Canadian companies Maia Farms and Ecoation have announced their grand prize victory in the Deep Space Food Challenge hosted by the Canadian Space Agency and Impact Canada, in collaboration with NASA. Their innovative food production system, CANGrow, including landmark mycelium protein ingredient CanPro, has been awarded the grand prize  and could one day support future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

CANGrow, the food production system that propelled Ecoation and Maia Farms to the top of the competition, is a modern engineering unit designed to feed astronauts on future missions, whether to the Moon or Mars. However, its implications extend far beyond space travel. CANGrow is also poised to improve food supply in remote, underserved, and disaster-stricken areas on Earth, thanks to its quick setup and sophisticated autonomous climate control systems.

"At Ecoation, we set out to make the world a better place by helping farmers produce healthy and nutritious food without heavy reliance on pesticides," said Saber Miresmaili, CEO of Ecoation. "During the course of this project, we had the opportunity to adapt the technologies that we have developed for terrestrial applications to meet the constraints of a space mission. I am extremely proud of the recognition and winning the competition and I look forward to feeding humans on planet Earth and beyond."

With the capability to produce over 700 kilograms of food annually from a unit no larger than a wardrobe, CANGrow efficiently grows an array of crops, including dwarf tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, and the novel Maia Farms CanPro mycoprotein ingredient derived from mushrooms. This modular system operates on standard 120-volt power and can be connected to a regular three-quarter inch garden hose, showcasing its ease of use and adaptability for both extraterrestrial and terrestrial applications.

The CANGrow system doesn't just grow plants, it is designed specifically to sustainably provide a diet that can meet the full nutritional needs of four individuals. At the heart of CANGrow are five specially designed grow chambers. Four are dedicated to plant growth, featuring everything from adjustable LED lights for perfect photosynthesis to a UV-treated hydroponic system for efficient watering. The fifth chamber is where Maia Farms' protein-rich mycelium grows, thanks to a sophisticated bioreactor system. And it doesn't stop there. Innovative solutions like Lomi's accelerated composting chamber drastically reduce waste, ensuring that CANGrow is not just about growing food but doing it sustainably.

"What started out as a starry-eyed childhood dream to grow food on the Moon has become reality today," added Gavin Schneider, CEO & Co-founder of Maia Farms. "More ambitious human space exploration will require the use of food production systems in space, and this project addresses a key need  to fuel our journey beyond our planetary boundary. Four years ago CANGrow was little more than a napkin sketch. Through the DSFC we built an elegant food production system and spun out two brand new companies. Maia Farms' vision is to fundamentally transform the protein landscape, and this project represents our company's boundless potential. In order to create a self-sustaining system that meets astronauts dietary and nutritional needs, we needed to crack the code on a protein that offered the taste, texture, and performance of an animal-derived protein. CanPro™ is our answer: not only is it easily digestible, it has a neutral taste and chews like meat. It's been an incredible honor to lead the Ecoation and Maia team over the finish line and ultimately win a very challenging competition. Thank you to the Canadian Space Agency for supporting our work for the past three years."

The journey to this achievement was marked by three rigorous rounds of judging and intense development for the two companies on their respective technologies. Prior to the winning of the prestigious grand prize, an additional CA$130,000 in additional grants was provided for the development cost. Specifically, Maia Farms focused on the development of a completely novel mycelium ingredient and bioreactor technology that the company has already commercialized. Ecoation's deep engineering expertise focused on autonomous climate control and closed-loop machine vision based crop management technology. This commitment has not only led to winning the prestigious grand prize, further fueling the development of sustainable food solutions.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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