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Lufa Farms
Photograph: Courtesy Lufa Farms

Montreal can become a self-sustaining, hyper-local city ecosystem of farms and gardens: Here's how.

Lufa Farms made a lot of green, leafy waves back in August when they built the world's biggest rooftop greenhouse in the world in Montreal—here's what they envision for the future of their company and the city.

JP Karwacki
Written by
JP Karwacki

Lufa Farms is shouting about urban agriculture from the rooftops—literally.

On August 26th, 2020, the Montreal-based urban agriculture company cut the ribbon on what was the world's largest rooftop greenhouse. Nearly three football fields in size and capable of feeding 10,000 families, the construction of that megalith of a garden allowed the company to increase its production twofold.

Lufa Farms
Photograph: Courtesy Lufa Farms

It was a massive step in the direction of a self-sustaining city, one that could utilize its urban space to provide food to its own people.

That's the good news.

The icing on the cake comes from how the creation of gardens like Lufa Farms' helps to minimalize the heat island effect, as greenery helps to bring down the heat that human activities like fuel-burning cars and electricity cause in urban areas.

Essentially, while all things green (grass and trees for example) evaporate water and cause cooling, concrete and asphalt doesn't.

Lufa Farms
Photograph: Courtesy Lufa Farms/Benjamin Mallette-Vanier

If you don't know Lufa Farms? The Montreal-based company is building these rooftop gardens in addition to creating a network of local farms and food makers—all vetted for transparency and sustainability—and they make it all available through an online marketplace with no subscription fees.

Orders Montrealers place online can be either delivered directly to their door via a fleet of electric cars for an extra cost part at $5—however, the current upswing in demand from the pandemic has resulted in the use of additional trucks to be able to serve as many people as possible, so it's not 100% green at the moment. It can also be delivered to a pick-up point, which is usually at a nearby dépanneur or pharmacy.

So, after you build the world's biggest rooftop greenhouse, what's next?

We caught up with Lauren Rathmell, co-CEO Lufa Farms, to ask what's in store for the company's urban agriculture plans for Montreal and what she imagines the city could be like in 2050 if we put our green thumbs to the challenge.

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How has the reception been to Lufa's newest—and largest in the world—greenhouse?

Lufavores are pumped. We’re once again growing about a dozen varieties of tomatoes, including heirlooms and others they’ve been eagering waiting for. And the reception, in general, has been amazing, especially in these times.

It's a huge milestone for us (the greenhouse has doubled our production in one fell swoop) and for urban agriculture (it’s actually the largest rooftop greenhouse in the world) and for Montreal (we’ve successfully repurposed a massive industrial building in our district).

We did the math: we’d only need the equivalent of 19 shopping centres’ worth of rooftop greenhouses to provide all the veggies Montreal needs.

How far does Lufa want to take its urban agriculture company in scope? Does it want to feed all Montrealers one day? Is this possible?

Yes! Our vision is to help make cities self-sufficient and reconnect people with how their food is grown. We definitely hope to keep growing our cohort of Lufavores. And we did the math: we’d only need the equivalent of 19 shopping centres’ worth of rooftop greenhouses to provide all the veggies Montreal needs.

Right now, we feed about two percent of Montreal, so we’re getting there. We also plan to replicate our model and expand to cities beyond Montreal in the near future.

Lufa Farms
Photograph: Courtesy Lufa Farms

Can you tell me about any future plans Lufa has in urban agriculture? Any livestock? Chicken coops for eggs? Honey production?

Hm, good ideas but not for now. We’re going to stick to rooftop veggies. We work with hundreds of partner farms and food makers though, for everything fresh, local, and responsible—eggs and honey included!

Is there anything Quebec isn't producing right now that Lufa sees a future in producing itself?

We grow tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, greens, and herbs - dozens of varieties in all - year-round, so we’re able to provide daily-harvested local veggies through the winter months when local produce is typically less abundant. We do have a random banana tree that one of our greenhouse teams planted for fun, but we’re sticking to veggies and always trying new varieties out.

Lufa Farms
Photograph: Courtesy Lufa Farms/Benjamin Mallette-Vanier

So what makes for a good relationship between city dwellers and the food they buy?

The most important element is transparency. People should know where their food comes from, who grew it, how it was grown, and be able to trust the whole chain. The direct connection we have with our Lufavores is so huge (and) they challenge us, give us feedback, and push us to do better everyday.

If Montreal can be growing its own food, from rooftop farms to community gardens and everything in between, and become a hyper-local ecosystem along with farms and food makers throughout the province, that would be incredible.

How difficult is it to set up an urban greenhouse like Lufa Farms'?

Our first site was tough. We did this crazy Google Maps survey of basically the whole island of Montreal to find suitable surface areas, then scouted the buildings and got in touch with building owners until we found the needle in the haystack that became our first rooftop greenhouse. It’s still one of the toughest parts of what we do, far from copy-paste, but we’ve learned a lot about how to find and adapt buildings as well as engineer rooftop greenhouses that are bigger and better each time.

What does Lufa envision for Montreal's future in the year 2050?

Wow, okay, how about a city of rooftop farms? If Montreal can be growing its own food, from rooftop farms to community gardens and everything in between, and become a hyper-local ecosystem along with farms and food makers throughout the province, that would be incredible. And every form of urban agriculture, especially rooftop farms, will improve urban quality of life so unbelievably - creating more green spaces, providing educational resources, offsetting heat islands, and increasing sustainable infrastructure. That’d be a great city.

This interview is part of an ongoing series from Time Out Montreal entitled Future Cities, Now! in which we look into what surprising innovations, creative ideas and amazing thinkers are creating a better future for Montreal.

Think you know someone who should be featured? Fire off an email to us, and stay up to date on everything we cover in Montreal by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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