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Kawartha Lakes woman spearheads probiotic soil innovation
L to R: Chris Cookman, Jacob Cookman, with Kim Thompson.

Kawartha Lakes woman spearheads probiotic soil innovation

in Business/Community/Environment by

One day, perhaps, this will be a well-known story. It will be a story of how a Kawartha Lakes entrepreneur, Kim Thompson, had a fitful night’s sleep. The legend will continue about how she used that late-night opportunity to pour herself into researching her business – horticulture – and after many more fitful nights’ sleep then finds her inspiration. It is the beginning of an insight that could overturn much of what we know about how things grow. Miryal will then become a great Canadian moment.

Kawartha Lakes woman spearheads probiotic soil innovationThe discovery from a few years ago may not seem that exciting on the surface, since it has to do with the power of simple fungi. Specifically, it is the power of mycorrhizae. These are ‘helpful fungi’ in layman’s terms, something that creates an incredibly mutual beneficial relationship between fungi and plant roots. Likely as many as 95 per cent of all the world’s plant species form mycorrhizal relationships with fungi. It’s a relationship that has existed for millions of years.

According to Dr. David Malloch, author of Natural History of Fungi, it works when the fungus receives the products of photosynthesis from the plant, which is then freed from having to find its own sources of energy.

“At the same time the fungus grows out into the soil and retrieves nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, and passes these back to the plant. Numerous experiments have shown that plants without mycorrhizae cannot cope as well with low mineral levels as those that have mycorrhizae,” writes Malloch.

The real moment of truth, Thompson knew, would be if someone could harness that power, to capture it for wide-scale use as a way to help things grow. If that could occur, it could prevent the wholesale use of harmful, synthetic fertilizers. This all-natural probiotic could, quite literally, change everything in her field.

Thompson then set out to make it happen. She partnered with leading Canadian scientist Dr. Leanne Philip, as well as BioSyneterra Solutions Inc., based in Quebec. A huge leap forward was made with their involvement. This included what she had wanted all along – the ability and innovation of being able to maintain a living product active for two years after packaging. This ground-breaking product and partnership is what allowed Miryal – now a registered trademark — to be brought to market.

The uses for Miryal (pronounced Mye-ril) are innumerable, Thompson says, from gardeners, big and small landscape companies, farmers, plant and tree nursery owners, wetland experts, municipalities – and so many more.”

“With Miryal, I feel so passionately that this is an amazing product for the environment. How incredible would it be if this was widely used instead of fertilizers?” she points out.

That’s why Thompson is keeping the price of Miryal low – cheaper than her lowest priced synthetic fertilizer at her garden centre. Thompson, along with her husband, Chris Cookman, and son Jacob Cookman, own a horticultural business located in Durham Region. They live in Kawartha Lakes and Thompson grew up in the Lindsay area.

The Canadian scientist who Thompson partnered with — Dr. Leanne Philip – says the creation of Miryal was “a dramatic leap forward.”

It was Philip’s Canadian and international connections through academia and Thompson’s connections from the private sector that helped move things along, including their connection to BioSyneterra Solutions Inc. in Quebec, which manufactures Miryal. BioSyneterra had the experience in bringing plant probiotics to market, something the group, as whole, was able to do in just 15 months.

“It now opens the door to a wide array of uses, Philip says, who likens plant root systems treated with Miryal to “major transportation and social media networks working synergistically below ground.”​

“The commercial development of the product Miryal could mean sustainable increased food production, wetland regeneration, and the restoration and regeneration of gravel pits and landfill sites,” says Philip. Wineries, parks, conservation areas, multi-purpose greenspaces and climate change reduction strategies are other uses for Miryal.

Today, so many plants, trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, and vegetables face stresses in their environment, such as infertile soils, diseases, extreme temperatures, drought, and man-made chemicals.​

Miryal, as a live probiotic, helps plants species adapt to their harsh conditions.

“It helps the roots grow tiny filaments that occupy great expanses of soil volumes and trap mineral nutrients and water which are essential to support plant growth,” says Thompson.

It’s when the mycorrhizae of Miryal attaches and becomes part of the cells of the roots of the plants and extensions of the root system itself that the magic happens. This allows the roots to reach the smaller pockets of nutrients in the soil.​

Thompson says the release of certain probiotics by Miryal provides plants with boosted resilience to plant pathogens.

“Imagine reducing the cost and use of watering, fertilizing, and pesticide use, as your plants increase their ability to protect themselves naturally.”

Thompson sells single pails of Miryal for small scale use for gardeners, while also being able to scale up dramatically for the needs of municipalities, conservation areas, or home builders.

“Miryal could mean sustainable increased food production,” says Thompson, or wetland regeneration and remediation.

“It could also be of great help to urban planners and developers who don’t always know how to match the right trees and shrubs to depleted soils that have been devastated by construction or extreme climate trends,” Thompson adds.

For the Earth and Our Future

Thompson will be the first to admit she didn’t do this on her own. Without the contributions of Dr. Leanne Philip and BioSyneterra Solutions Inc. in Quebec, it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground (to harness what’s in the ground.)

On the other hand, without Thompson’s burning curiosity and passion for her business, and her drive for implementation, Miryal might never have been more than a fleeting idea.

With clearance from regulators to sell across Canada, Miryal has the capacity to go beyond changing Kawartha Lakes where she calls home, and Durham Region where she works. It’s an innovation that one day, just maybe, could change the world.

To learn more about Miryal visit their website here. To reach Dr. Leanne Philip, email her at soiladvocates@rogers.ca or visit her website here.

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Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Lindsay Advocate. He is the author of 'Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World,' and is also Vice Chair of the Ontario Basic Income Network. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, Roderick has interviewed former Prime Ministers of Canada, Senators, and Mayors across Canada. He also wrote and published a series of books for youth about Canada's Prime Ministers as teens.

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