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Rooftop greenhouses boost Montreal local food production

Lufa Farms is an urban agriculture company out of Montreal. Their specialty? ‘Occupying’ rooftops with greenhouses. “We have five greenhouses so far,” says Callie Giaccone from Lufa Farms. “They are all different sizes. One is as big as three football fields. Additionally, we have a fifth one coming online.”

The company serves the greater Montreal area, but it also has an online marketplace where it sells more than two thousand different products coming from food producers around the area. “What started as a simple premade veggie basket service turned into a full-fledged online farmers’ market,” Callie remarks.

Of all places
However, there’s one question that lingers: why rooftops? “There are a couple of reasons,” says Callie. “Our mission is to create a better food system where we can grow food close to where people live. Here in Montreal, there are a lot of big industrial roofs that are completely unused. In the city, you would see countless big, flat roofs, so we decided to go for that with initial proof of concept. Since it was a successful experiment, we continued to do that.” It’s certainly a sight to behold for Montreal dwellers, as just looking at the top of a building would reveal where your lettuce is coming from. While amusing and mildly entertaining for the public, Lufa Farms has endured (and still is enduring) quite a few challenges.

“You’d need a huge greenhouse to be profitable growing small veggies,” Callie continues. “Our first greenhouse wasn’t necessarily super big, but it served to show that there’s interest in the types of products we grow.” This also has to do with the general attitude of Montreal City, which is very much engaged in the conversation around sustainability. After all, you can grow year-round with a greenhouse. “The second greenhouse we built was of commercial scale. We had to keep developing and innovating, as we couldn’t replicate the same greenhouse of the same size. To keep being profitable, we needed to grow in a bigger greenhouse. However, size enough wouldn’t suffice. We knew we had to improve our technology, make things more efficient, and so on.”

Different approaches
It doesn’t have to be about greenhouses only, though. Lufa Farms has also recently opened an indoor farm. “We built it into an old, big unused warehouse. We didn’t go for vertical cultivation because the ceiling is quite low, so we decided to do single-level farming for veggies that fit in one’s hand.” Lufa Farms saw that approach working in the greenhouse, but they had to tweak a few things to make it work in a fully indoor environment. “We wanted to try a farming endeavor where we could control the environment quickly. For that, we needed to control the HVAC, water circulation, heating, lighting, etc.”

On top of all of that, Lufa Farms has also recently completed another greenhouse, making it 5 under the company’s belt. This shows that the market in Montreal is very receptive to Lufa Farms’ offering. “Montreal is a great hub for eating. There are two huge markets, and there are a lot of independent restaurants. In Quebec, people have a lot of pride for the province and want to support Quebec businesses.” This also means that Lufa Farms is not the only urban farm in town. “It doesn’t matter because it’s great to see more urban agriculture coming online. It has given us more competition, which is a strong motivator for us to keep growing and innovating.”

Tackling the market
CEA-grown produce can generally be slightly more expensive than more traditionally grown greens. A great example can be seen with vertically grown produce, which usually sells at a price point that hardly attracts a more financially cautious consumer. Lufa Farms is very much aware of that, and they have been working hard to reduce the price of their CEA-grown products. “We don’t want to be the rich-person grocery store,” says Callie. “It all comes down to a question: how can we do what we do while lowering prices? Over time, we have worked hard on it and succeeded in lowering our prices, but this is an ongoing effort, and it’s part of our bigger mission.”

With all the things going on for Lufa Farms, stepping outside of Montreal may be something in the works. “Montreal is kind of a good testing ground. We have very hot summers and super cold winters. When the company started, we were aware that if we succeeded in pulling it off here, then we’d be able to replicate the concept in many locations. The end goal, indeed, is to be able to build greenhouses in different places.”

For more information:
Lufa Farms
Tel.: (514) 669-3559