Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments below, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time).
Urban Commercial Rooftop Farming
Say what now?
I’ll admit that this post is going to be a bit sparse on its main subject which is doors, but I found this so cool that I thought it worth sharing as a doors post all the same.
Last spring we took advantage of an opportunity to do an open-house tour of a Lufa Farms rooftop greenhouse facility in the north-central part of Montreal.
At the time I knew there were a number of commercial greenhouses well outside of the city that grow crops like lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes year-round. These however use traditional farmland protected from the elements by a huge heated greenhouses in order to produce during the coldest winter months.
The idea behind the Lufa Farms business model is different and very much intriguing: Grow the food right in the city, where the people are, using the otherwise wasted space – that is the flat rooftops of low-rise commercial buildings.
After finding their first suitable building partner in 2010, the founders set out to reinvent what farming for large population centers could be.
Ten years later in the spring of 2020 after several expansions and additional greenhouse builds, Lufa Farms just put the finishing touches on their 5th and biggest greenhouse yet. This new facility will take their growing capacity to over 300,000 square feet – roughly the equivalent of 6 football fields.
So how does it work? How do they make money?
Using an easy to opt-out online subscription, Lufa customers receive a weekly email or text detailing their suggested starter basket for the week, based on what’s ready to be picked in their various greenhouses.
Starting with a value of close to $30.00 subscribers then have several days before their designated chosen delivery day to log into Lufa’s online farmer’s market and customize their basket as they see fit. As long as they maintain a minimum order of $20.00 they can remove products they don’t want or need and add other available products grown either by Lufa or from any one of the hundreds of local food producers they work with.
To cut down on food waste everything grown by Lufa for each order is custom-picked in the late night or early morning only hours before customer’s chosen delivery day, and then delivered fresh several hours later, either to a nearby drop-off point, or for an extra charge straight to the customer’s home.
Touring one of their greenhouses was an educational experience, and I have to admit that the idea of having fresh cukes, peppers, eggplant, spinach and tomatoes (to name but a few) delivered from only a few miles away when it’s -27 degrees outside in mid-January makes me smile.
Our guide explained that similar concepts are now taking hold in other ‘winter cities’ in North America, most notably New York, Boston, and Chicago.
She pointed out that to keep the weight load down for the building underneath, everything is grown hydroponically, using a closed loop computer-controlled watering and feeding system.
A rail system between the rows allows for simple efficient, picking, pruning, and plant maintenance using special height-adjustable carts.
Each greenhouse is separated into several different climate zones, all automated to provide optimum temperature and humidity conditions for each of the specific crops they grow.
And what about when it’s -27 outside? By capturing and storing passive solar energy, as well as residual heat escaping from the building underneath, these rooftop farms require less than half the energy used by equivalent sized ground level greenhouses.
Before the current lockdown from the Covid-19 pandemic, they were assembling and delivering over 10,000 baskets each week to customers all across the Montreal urban community.
With many non-essential retail businesses they used as drop-off points now forced to shut down temporarily, they have had to scramble to increase capacity for direct to home delivery.
Despite the current challenges, one lesson societies are learning from this pandemic is the importance of food autonomy and not relying too heavily on far-away foreign sources for our food; meaning that the concept of urban rooftop commercial farming in cold weather climates is more than likely here to stay.
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As always, thanks for looking 🙂
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