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Alberta Yield: Nova Green taking spent stalks and turning it into good gut health

The journey for Edmonton’s Barry Farquarson has spanned the past decade.

At first, he was doing consulting work for the pair he now partners with in the biomedical / agri-tech field. Farquarson was helping the more technically-savvy Larry Donovan and George Richie together a business plan.

After seeing the work they were producing, he wanted to jump on board.

The trio make up Nova Green, a company that takes spent wheat feedstock and converts it into a natural prebiotic for human consumption.

“The solution that we put together really focuses on providing dietary fiber,” Farquarson said.

“It’s a novel dietary fiber product, prebiotic fiber that will blend very nicely into either existing food products that can go into manufacturing through products, or it can be used on a standalone basis as a as a supplement.”

Farquarson said the recent COVID-19 pandemic thrust personal health into the forefront. In the health world he said there’s a real focus on the gut-brain access. Essentially it links good gut health with good brain health.

Gastrointestinal health is linked to the immune system and the cardiovascular system and ultimately the human brain.

“Generally speaking, the prebiotic fiber product that we are in the process of developing and will produce has a very good impact on all of those aspects of human health,” he said.

Their process

The group first started off trying to use the stalk of a Jerusalem artichoke. Farquarson said it’s a plant that grows very tall and has a great deal of stalk volume.

They built test plots to grow the artichokes for almost seven years. It didn’t yield the volume results they’d anticipated. So, they had to find another direction.

 That’s when they realized they could use remnant products – predominantly wheat straw.

They extract what they need from the remnants and still have 90 per cent of the biomass remaining. That’s converted into a biocharger for the soil. (That product is carbon credit eligible).

Their extract is then turned into a powder.

From there it goes to one of two traditional markets: As an ingredient in other products (energy bars, yogurts, drinks) or as a supplement.

A prebiotic helps stimulate the production of good bacteria in your gut. When ingested it promotes the growth of those powerful cells.

Battle scars

Having been at this for a decade, Farquarson said he and his co-founders certainly have battle scars. They tried and tested a number of approaches. Yes, like other start ups, they’ve made mistakes or taken steps back to move forward.

He said they have a good foundation for their company – he having the business acumen and his partners with the technical expertise.

Working in the Alberta Yield program is giving them exposure to ideas and approaches they hadn’t thought of before.

“I’ve been around the block, but you know we, always want to learn,” Farquarson said.

“The way I look at it is, if I can find that one thing that gets our company over the top, I’m going to go look for it.”

Right now, getting a product to commercialization is key. They’re looking at the construction of a pilot facility so they can produce samples to take to market.

In the next 18 to 24 months, they want to scale from test markets to full commercialization.

“Certainly the market is very primed for the solutions right now, so the timing is good,” Farquarson said.