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Kevin and Monica Berry

Always expanding

It's a farmer's job to think outside the box - whether it be new crops, new methods or new technology. Kevin and Monica Berry are not only learning from techniques from around the world, but bringing that knowledge back to their business in Truro.

With over seven years of business under their belt, Kevin and Monica Berry are setting an example for independent Nova Scotia farmers—and it all started in the greenhouses of the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus.

“It’s been a long haul since we started,” says Kevin (Class of ’10), about the journey he and his wife undertook seven years ago to build their hydroponics business in the heart of Nova Scotia. “But we believe in what we’re doing wholeheartedly and in our vision for what local agriculture could be.”

Based in the Truro area, Kevin’s Greenhouse supplies local markets, restaurants and businesses with fresh, local produce and culinary herbs grown in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way. Kevin and Monica met at the then NSAC while Kevin was studying Plant Science Technology and Monica (Class of ’04), then a recent graduate of Plant Science Technology, was working at the campus. “We were both mature students with common goals,” says Monica.“I think we bonded over that, plus we shared an interest in plant science.” Kevin’s focus was vegetable production, while Monica pursued her interest in herbal medicine and crop production. Both agree that the Faculty of Agriculture and its programs, education and professors have been hugely influential on their business.

“I was grateful to have worked with Dr. Glen Sampson in the Weed Science Lab and Monica with Professor Lloyd Mapplebeck,” says Kevin. “Glen taught me to push myself and my expectations.” “Lloyd inspired me to persevere as an entrepreneur,” says Monica. “He also taught me the importance of being creative when starting a small business.”

The proof is in the produce: Kevin’s focus on hydroponic technology means that the fruit, vegetables and herbs they grow aren’t treated with chemicals or pesticides. “Not only is what we grow safer for people to eat,” he says, “but hydroponic growing also means that we save a lot of water and energy.”

The bold vision that Kevin and Monica share for the future of local agriculture was born at the Faculty of Agriculture. “I don’t know if enough people think about where our food comes from. Over 70 per cent of what we eat isn’t grown locally. I think as a province, we can do better,” says Kevin. “I didn’t come from a family of farmers. Before going to the AC, I didn’t think about where my food was coming from. For me and my family today, it’s something we take seriously.”

Monica wants to see more people getting their hands dirty. “We want our 11-year-old son, Michael, to be able to take over our business,” she says. “He’s already helping us.” The key is cultivating a nurturing environment and a spirit of entrepreneurship. “We couldn’t have started our business without a lot of collaboration and support from family and friends,” says Monica. “We need to help people who have an idea and a dream. It’s going to take all of us working together to make that happen.”

Kevin and Monica are inspired by farms and producers around the world, and they believe that farmers, industry and the government should work closely with one another. “There are amazing things happening in hydroponics and agriculture in general,” says Kevin. “What we learn and discover as we grow could help other people. What I’ve learned from others has helped me. It’s the nature of farming to be a community business—that’s truer today than ever.”

Nova Scotia is at the heart of this community, thanks to the Faculty of Agriculture. “We made connections with industry when we studied at the AC—connections that still help us grow our business,” says Kevin. Adds Monica: “The AC has always been a part of our lives together, both personally and professionally. It’s where we met and where the idea for our future business was born. We even got married in the gardens on campus! I’m excited for the AC’s future, because I feel like it’s linked to mine.”

Kevin’s fascination lies in the connection between the past and the future. “On one hand, we have such a traditional, essential industry like farming,” he says. “But on the other, we have a Faculty and a community that’s modernizing thinking and coming up with new ideas to grow the food we need.”

A visit to the Berrys’ greenhouse exemplifies this connection. Kevin’s innovative growing techniques bring countless varieties of vegetables and herbs to life, including older ones that are gaining popularity. “I’m really interested in giving people alternatives,” he says. “Let’s not just think about broccoli—there’s rapini, kohlrabi, Swiss chard. We should be growing and using all of them.”

Kevin and Monica have big future plans for their venture. “Last year we built our new greenhouse, and we’re supplying more local businesses with produce,” says Monica. “We recently began supplying Pete’s Frootique, Farmer’s Best and Shannex with fresh produce and culinary herbs, which is a great opportunity. We can’t wait to keep expanding and working with restaurants and businesses across the province.”