Montreal is better known for its urban parks and nightlife, but soon, the city will be home to a world first in farming. That’s because a commercial-scale rooftop greenhouse is set to open on the flat, concrete roof of an office building close to the city’s Marché Central, north of the downtown. Planting should begin in January and, if all goes to plan, customers will be able to get pesticide and herbicide-free vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, bok choy and arugula as early as next spring.
Supermarket produce often travels thousands of kilometres to store shelves, fuelling concern about everything from food quality to greenhouse gases. Lufa Farms, the Montreal company behind the project, says its greenhouse will give urbanites a chance to eat veggies grown in their own neighbourhoods. As the population increases—especially in cities—and arable land becomes scarcer, the notion of urban farming is getting more popular. One of the best-known advocates is Columbia University’s Dickson Despommier, who last month published The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. In it, he describes farms several stories high, in the heart of the city.
Vertical farms are still a ways away, but “to innovate, you have to do it in steps,” says Lufa Farms president and co-founder Mohamed Hage. He and co-founder Kurt Lynn talk about building rooftop greenhouses in other cities, like Toronto—which last year became the first North American city to require “green roofs” on new buildings of a certain size (the bylaw comes into effect next year). “We believe urban farming is key to any healthy city,” says Hage. “If you look around Montreal, there’s ample roof space to feed all of Canada.”