If all goes well, urban locavores will have a year-round source of non-GMO, pesticide-and-herbicide-free produce by early 2011.
Lufa Farms, a Montreal company, plans to unveil the world’s first commercial-scale rooftop greenhouse atop of a two-storey office building near Marche Centrale.
The nearly $2-million, 31,000 square-foot project should be completed before the end of the year and is expected to be ready for planting in January.
But it won’t be alone in its field for long. New York Citybased Gotham Greens intends to open a 15,000 square-foot rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn in 2011.
Lufa Farms co-founder Kurt Lynn said the company wants to shorten the distance between the people who grow food and the people who buy it. He said some of the produce found in Quebec supermarkets travels more than 1,500 kilometres after being harvested.
“In our view, that is the cause of most of the problems with food today,” he said, consumers are often limited to vegetables and fruits that can withstand weeks of travel and processing without spoiling.
“You end up with tomatoes that don’t taste like tomatoes.”
Lynn said that because his firm intends to ship produce within 24 hours of harvesting, he has the option of selecting more fragile -and often tastier -varieties of produce.
To that end, Lufa Farms has been working with McGill University plant science and nutrition professors to help choose the tastiest and most nutritious strains to plant.
The produce will not be certified organic, but it will be pesticide and herbicide-free and it will not be genetically modified, Lynn said.
He said the firm will use hydroponic farming techniques to create an optimal growing environment.
“You give (the plants) what they want -and they love it,” he said, explaining that a tomato plant in the greenhouse could reach 12 to 15 feet in height.
Targeted customers are the general public and restaurants.
Customers will be able to buy produce “baskets” on the company’s website, which will be delivered to group drop off points or will be available for pickup. (Farms that participate in Quebec’s popular Equiterre program also use a basket delivery system.)
Owen Rose, head of the board of Montreal’s Urban Ecology Centre -an organization that promotes green roofs -said “the idea is great.”
Rose said a rooftop greenhouse accomplishes many things -the promotion of urban agriculture, the provision of food security and it is good for the local economy. Moreover, it puts “green and leafy vegetables in the forefront” making them “even trendy” and encourages people to be aware of and to eat vegetables.
He said the greenhouse could be a good marketing tool for Montreal restaurant owners trying to demonstrate local responsibility. They could promote certain dishes as having “grown in Montreal” ingredients.