I wish I’d been there. At the coffee shop meetings, poring over catalogues of seeds, drinking a celebratory beer after the signing of contracts, as the first basket of food was sent to a paying customer. Like I said, I wish I’d been there.
If an urban area exists people strive, with varying results, to farm spaces not filled in the pursuit of more ground shattering residential or industrial conquests. In truth, the all-gobbling-might of steel and concrete has left little viable space for food production, so the areas cultivated actually curate pansies more often than peas.
Traditional agriculture dominates rural landscapes and cities the skylines. As a result a weird inversion has occurred: millions of people pack into a tiny spaces that could never support their numbers, whilst a lot fewer have acres to wander through, dolled up in Barbour and Hunter wellies with matching spaniel to heel.
It’s a good job the production inversion was eased by someone inventing the wheel and Eddie Stobart putting a truck on top.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Then Lufa Farms formed – like many others they realised there was potential to farm cities, to farm skylines. Unlike so many others, they made it happen. In 2011 Lufa Farms built their first 31,000sqft greenhouse on an office block roof-top in Montreal, two years later another was added this time even bigger and even better.
The first farm was an experimental unit for Lufa Farms, to prove the idea in practice, learn the trade and hopefully not to make too many mistakes. It turned out to be good practice: in 2012 one roof-top greenhouse alone produced seventy tons of food, from forty varieties of vegetables and helped feed three thousand people.
Conceptually it’s not a hard idea to get your head around… Wasted roofs are converted into productive areas with the simple addition of a greenhouse, a sprinkling of heat and light where appropriate, a touch of the water (look skywards) and a growing medium. It’s what we’ve been doing for years – just in a new location.
It’s a relationship that even benefits the jagged manmade mountains. Rain is intercepted and utilised by the plants long before the city’s sewage system becomes even more burdened, in winter buildings are kept warm and in summer much cooler.
The greenhouses gain too. Lufa Farms units consume fifty percent less energy than a comparable system as heat is gained from the mass of the cities surrounding them and their closed loop hydroponic system requires 50-90% less water. Then consider the compost they produce, the synthetic fertilisers that aren’t used or the diesel, refrigeration, transport and infrastructure that aren’t needed to get the food into the city.
Its food that’s fused with technology. Tablet platforms decide the planting regimes and controlled curtains under the greenhouse roof can maintain an internal temperature of twenty-two degrees even though it’s minus seventeen the other side of the pane.
But all the effort and ideas are worthless if no one’s bought into the concept. Once again Lufa Farms has triumphed there, because people have certainly bought into the concept!
Lufa use a drop off system (Farm Drop in London are doing something similar) to access their customer base of individual consumers and chefs within a fifteen mile radius. After picking, the baskets of food arrive at one of 150 drop off locations around the city – gyms, businesses, retail operations amongst others – and the customers then swoop in to collect their dinner. Harvest to home, all within twelve hours.
In recognition of the fact that supermarkets have long rid society of being content at buying one thing from one shop, Lufa have teamed up with dozens of other local companies to increase their produce range and customer offering. A quick browse through their collaborations exposes delectations from Dispatch Coffee, Champignons Maison and Le Fromentier.
Once you’ve browsed, ordered, collected and cooked you can then read their blogs on everything from organic Fairtrade chocolate to authentic Italian pasta, or watch videos of talks by their founding members. Lufa Farms have created a truly immersive farm in the heart of the city, in the heart of Montreal’s homes.
I can’t speak for Lufa Farms but I’m sure they would never claim that we can feed the world via their business method but it can make a huge difference. Why take up viable agricultural land with greenhouses when you could put a roof-top into production? Why produce everything in the countryside? Why not take a stand against the growing void between field and fork? Why not find an opportunity in a threat? Why not look to the future?
I just wished I’d been in Montreal in 2010 when the plans were afoot, hopefully we’ll be doing something on the same scale in the UK soon because I don’t want to miss out a second time.
Keep urban! GB