Montreal hits the roof for veggies

Lufa Farms, a rooftop hydroponic farming venture launched in Montreal in 2011, has been finding success with the urban greenhouse approach and has been profitable since 2016.

Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, toured Lufa’s new 63,000-square-foot facility in Montreal last year.

This particular structure was Lufa’s third rooftop hydroponic greenhouse and helped bring the grower’s total square footage to 138,000 across three Montreal-area rooftops. The greenhouse features purple LED lighting—in addition to available sunlight—so crops can grow year round.

Lufa offers direct-to-consumer, customized baskets, in a business model that is a combination of AmazonPrime and community supported agriculture (CSA). Customers are emailed Friday when the website’s marketplace opens, and they can then customize their basket up until Sunday night at midnight.

Lufa provides about a quarter of the food it sells on the marketplace, including hydroponically grown bok choy, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, peppers, and zucchini. Combining this harvest with those of other local growers results in a varied mix of fresh produce, ready for pickup at one of 300 locations throughout the city or for delivery by electric car (for an additional fee). The growing company delivers over 12,000 baskets every week in the Montreal area.

A different rooftop approach, albeit not in a greenhouse, has also been gathering attention in Montreal. Atop an IGA Duchemin store in St. Laurent, 30 varieties of organic produce, including tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and lettuce, are grown for purchase in the grocery store below.

The 25,000-square-foot farm accepts orders from a kiosk located in the produce department downstairs, and shoppers can use the touchscreen to prompt a harvester on the roof to pick their basket and send it down to the store below.

There are also eight beehives on the roof, providing shoppers the opportunity to purchase hyper-local honey. In a smart marketing move, IGA Duchemin has created and posted an entertaining video of the ordering process at the store, available on YouTube.

In addition to Lufa Farms and IGA Duchemin’s rooftop greenhouses, other local sourcing efforts are popping up in the region. Solar and cold weather greenhouses are being improved in hopes of extending the growing season and cultivating food nearer to population centers, and vertical farming initiatives are also getting attention from the research community.

McGill University’s Mark Lefsrud, associate professor of bioresource engineering, knows from his days at NASA (the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration) that it “takes a little less than eight square meters to feed a human.”

Vertical farms, if financially sustainable, could feed the masses near multiple population centers in the provinces. Lefsrud consulted with Urban Barns Foods, Inc. in the grower’s recent efforts in Quebec to make vertical (hydroponic) farming a reality, particularly with respect to leafy greens.

The company has since relocated to Milner, British Columbia, and operates under the name Cubic Farms. Founder Dave Dinesen continues to advocate for urban farming, including in a recent TEDx speech on lettuce—since Canada imports nearly a billion heads of lettuce every year.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.