Sky Garden

Meet montreal’s rooftop gardeners at lufa farms

By Jason Santerre

Rooftops represent about 30 percent of a city’s surface area and yet, according to a report published by the Globe & Mail, less than 10 percent of Canada’s commercial roofs can support the weight of a greenhouse farm. That’s too bad. Not only can they help feed a city by providing fresh, locally grown produce, they provide several ecological bonuses.

For one, a green roof absorbs heat while acting as insulation against the elements, thereby reducing a building’s energy needs. By lowering said energy demands, green rooftops decrease air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, all of that extra vegetation helps remove said pollutants. Rainwater runoff is reduced and pollutants are filtered out. Best of all, a rooftop garden acts as a veritable urban oasis for several species of bird and butterfly.

Montreal is making the most of its rooftop space thanks to Lufa Farms. It took founder Mohamed Hage five years to find the right building and then convince the city it could be done. It also took a major investment, of course, but all of the investment in cash and muscle is paying off. Montréal enSanté recently checked in with the “green thumbers” at Lufa Farms and spoke to Lauren Rathmell, greenhouse director and a founding member of the team.

MES: Let’s start with numbers. How large an area is dedicated to growing vegetables?

Lauren Rathmell: Our first site in Ahuntsic- Cartierville is 2,880 square metres. Our second site in Laval is 4,000 square metres.

MES: How many varieties are grown?

LR: We grow 22 different tomato varieties, including heirloom and specialty types. We have three eggplant varieties, English and Lebanese cucumbers, various types of hot and sweet peppers, and a number of lettuces, including Swiss chard and microgreens. All in all, we're growing about 50 different varieties.

MES: What are some of your favourites?

LR: I love the big heirloom tomatoes for their taste and history. Currently, we're growing Cherokee Purple, Striped German, and Brandywine. There’s a really unique variety called Indigo Rose. It was specially bred by Oregon State University for its high antioxidant content. It has a beautiful, dark-purple hue.

MES: What about your colleagues?

LR: We actually don't have too many people on the team with an agricultural background. Usually, they're drawn to Lufa through an interest in sustainable urban farming, joining an innovative company, and tackling the challenges that come with it.

MES: How did you get involved in this line of work?

LR: I graduated in biochemistry from McGill around the time Lufa was in the planning stages. I started a project at McGill's Macdonald campus growing greenhouse crops for taste and nutrition tests. I was incredibly excited about the project. Plant science and sustainable farming provide a challenge I love. And the adventure of Lufa Farms was hard to resist.

MES: Do you see a day when most cities will dedicate rooftop space to vegetable gardens?

LR: Yes! It's fully feasible for cities to be self-sufficient in their fresh produce supply. It would take the rooftops of only about 15 shopping centres equipped with greenhouses to feed Montreal's population.

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