The roof of a warehouse in the centre of Canada’s second-largest city seems an odd place to choose to attempt to revolutionize the growing of fruit and vegetables but that is exactly what Lufa Farms are trying to do.
Last week, in Montreal they unveiled the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse. This not their first – they have three more, all in Montreal – but it is by far their most ambitious.
In 15,000 square metres of space — about the size of three soccer pitches – they grow an astonishing 12,000 kilos per week of aubergines and tomatoes.
The greenhouse uses solar energy to provide heat and, in Montreal’s notoriously cold winters, utilizes heat escaping from the roof of the warehouse below them. The vegetables are grown hydroponically, that is to say without the use of any soil, with 90% of the water coming from recycled rainwater.
The vegetables are not the only living thing in the greenhouse: there are also bees to pollinate the plants, and wasps and ladybirds to keep down the population of aphids and other bugs. This means that everything is 100% organic: no pesticides are used
Lufa farms opened their first experimental greenhouse in 2011. Now, as well as aubergines and tomatoes they grow lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, celery, sprouts and even the Chinese leafy vegetable bok choy.
The business was started by Lebanese-born Muhamed Hage and his American wife: Lauren Rathmell. The crazy thing is that before this none of the founders had even grown a tomato!
Their aim is to provide fresh, sustainably grown, organic fruit and vegetables in the very place they are consumed – the heart of the city. Their success has not gone unnoticed. There are now rooftop warehouses in New York, Chicago and Denver and a French company, French Urban Nature plans to open one in Paris in 2022.
Lufa Farms are converting their entire delivery fleet to electric trucks but their longer-term goal is to export their business model worldwide. Significantly, for the future success of this type of operation, the company has been consistently profitable since 2016. Their aim, they say modestly, is to reinvent the world’s food system.