Grocery grows own produce in rooftop garden
St-Laurent’s green requirement planted seed for produce project
Tim Murphy bends down and pulls a healthy-looking bulb of garlic out of the ground.
Nearby, heirloom tomatoes grow next to several varieties of lettuce. It’s a large, well-maintained garden, but what really sets this garden apart is where it’s located. Murphy is a project manager and urban gardener for The Green Line: Green Roof, a Montreal-based company that installs green roofs. The garden he tends is on the roof of a grocery store.
IGA Extra Famille Duchemin, in the St-Laurent borough, says that it’s the first grocery store in Canada to sell produce grown on its own roof.
More than 30 different kinds of produce are being grown on the 25,000-square-foot roof, and all of it is certified organic.
In addition to tomatoes and lettuce, eggplant, radish, kale and basil are among the products growing here.
Required by St-Laurent to install a green roof, Richard Duchemin, the store’s co-owner, said he decided to treat that as an opportunity, instead of a constraint.
“People are very interested in buying local,” he said.
“There’s nothing more local than this.”
Duchemin said also he wanted to set an example for other grocery stores.
“Why don’t supermarkets plant vegetables on their roofs? Some restaurants have little boxes where they grow herbs,” he said. “We pushed it further because we know we’re able to sell what we produce here.”
While the costs are higher, due to the small scale of the project, Duchemin said the produce grown on the store’s roof is being sold at the same price as any other organic produce.
The store itself is LEED Gold certified, one of the highest standards for green buildings. The green roof plays a role in that, it reduces energy consumption by providing an extra layer of insulation, Duchemin said.
There are other environmental benefits, the garden is irrigated with water collected from the store’s dehumidification system, which would otherwise have been discarded and the roof has become a habitat for birds and insects.
Some of those insects, like bees, are wanted (there are several hives on the roof ), but steps have to be taken to keep other insects off the produce.
While certain pesticides are allowed in organic farming, Murphy said he tries to avoid them. Instead, flowers that repel unwanted bugs with their smell have been planted. In the future, the store may start selling fresh-cut flowers from the roof.
While many rooftop gardens opt for hydroponic systems, this one uses soil on the roof — which allows it to be certified organic.
However, because the soil is quite shallow, it limits the type of produce that can be grown, said Murphy. Large root vegetables, for example, aren’t an option.
There’s more demand for green roofs on grocery stores across Canada, said Pierre St-Laurent, the executive vice-president for Quebec at Sobeys, which owns the IGA brand.
He said the company will be watching the project and while it’s too early to announce any other similar initiatives, it could be replicated if it’s a success.