The good food guys
Montreal has become home to the world’s first commercial rooftop farm
FOR a city where the signature dish is poutine — a junky hangover hash of chips, cheese curd and gravy — Montreal has a surprising passion for good food.
I’m not talking about its bagels, renowned as some of the best in North America, or its thriving fresh-food markets showcasing the fruits (and vegetables) of regional Quebecois agriculture.
This is about the ingenuity of people committed to local produce, sustainability and making a difference. From rooftops to rural farms, Canada’s second-largest city is helping change the way people eat.
In the middle of a light industrial area 4km south of downtown, I don a white coat, wash my hands and disinfect my shoes to visit a rooftop Eden called Lufa. In this elevated greenhouse, two storeys above the street, the roof space has been turned into a quarter-hectare showpiece of ‘‘geek agriculture’’, as Lufa co-founder Kurt Lynn describes it.
‘‘It’s technology, but it’s about trying to facilitate agriculture, not change it,’’ he says.
The world’s first commercial rooftop farm is an extraordinary sight. Regimented lines of 8m-long tomato plants climb skywards; squash flowers twirl around training wires like pole dancers. More than 25 vegetable and herb varieties thrive in this climate-adjusted computerised farm where water is recycled, energy rationed and synthetic pesticides banned. Aphids are controlled with soapy water or by unleashing a legion of ladybugs.
All this effort is for a worthy cause. Lufa feeds Montrealers. About 2000 locals register online each week for a box of produce grown and harvested at Lufa and delivered to one of 60 pick-up points around the city.
‘‘The idea is to decrease the distance between producer and consumer,’’ says Lynn. ‘‘Our goal was 5km.’’ With shorter distances, there’s less need for refrigeration and the vast amount of energy it consumes. Lufa’s model eliminates chemicals and plastic packaging.
The farm was conceived five years ago by Lynn and web entrepreneur MohamedHage. Construction began in autumn 2010 and the first harvest was in spring 2011. Lufa broke even in February last year.
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