Innovative rooftop vertical farm launches in Vancouver

November 20, 2012 | Jobs and the Economy

Today Mayor Gregor Robertson celebrated the opening of the first rooftop vertical farm in Vancouver, and the harvesting of its first commercial crop of leafy local greens.

The vertical farm is in a greenhouse on top of a parkade in downtown Vancouver, with under-utilized space at a Richards Street EasyPark lot being transformed into a home for innovative urban agriculture.

Vancouver-based Local Garden (a subsidiary of Alterrus) will produce approximately 150,000 pounds of leafy green vegetables and herbs a year, free of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides and without the need for genetically modified seeds. The produce will be distributed to local Vancouver grocers and restaurants. Customers include, Urban Fare, Fable Restaurant, Cioppino’s, Hawksworth and other local restaurants.

“We’re very excited to work with Alterrus to create local green jobs and grow fresh produce right in the heart of downtown Vancouver,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who attended the launch. “This project demonstrates the innovative spirit in our City’s booming clean tech sector. Transforming an underused downtown parking lot to create much-needed jobs and fresh, local food is a win-win-win.”

Vancouver has set the goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020, with bold targets such as doubling the number of green jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 33%, and increasing city-wide food assets by 50%.

“This new greenhouse helps us on all of these fronts,” added the Mayor.

The City of Vancouver is partnering on the project by leasing the rooftop of an underused city-owned parkade to Alterrus.

“We believe this technology has the potential to transform Vancouver’s food system,” said Christopher Ng, CEO of Alterrus. “Vancouver produces a small percentage of its own food. We view Local Garden as a part of a transition to a more sustainable model of food production and delivery.”

Ng noted that produce trucked from California can spend up to four days in transit. By contrast, this project produces a fraction of the carbon footprint of those imports and is picked, packed and ready for the dinner table the same day.

Rick Sielski, Chief Operating Officer of Vancity Credit Union, which provided Alterrus with growth-capital financing for Local Garden, was also on hand to offer his congratulations to Alterrus and Local Garden.

“It’s an innovative project that’s creating jobs, producing local food and reducing its footprint on the environment,” he said. “Projects like this are totally aligned with our vision at Vancity of building vibrant and sustainable communities.”

The Grand Opening, at the EasyPark rooftop in downtown Vancouver, featured Celebrity Chef Trevor Bird, who has been a participant on Top Chef Canada and is owner of Fable Restaurant in Vancouver, one of Local Garden’s customer’s. He presented the speakers with a salad of Local Garden greens and a special dressing he created.

Also on hand were students from Lord Strathcona Elementary School who used iPads donated by the Vancouver Sun and the Hearts of Gold Foundation through the Adopt-a-School campaign. Students supported their community and educated guests on what they have learned in their curriculum about urban agriculture, sustainable farming and healthy diets.

Workers for the greenhouse have been hired through Mission Possible, an organization that helps those facing poverty, homelessness and other challenges, to find meaningful work. Up to four Mission Possible employees will work at the greenhouse to harvest and package freshly grown produce on site.

Alterrus’ vertical-farming technology produces the Local Garden crops hydroponically. The greenhouse is scheduled to produce up to 500 pounds of leafy green vegetables a day including leafy greens, lettuce, spinach and herbs. All produce is picked and packed onsite.

In the 6,000 square-foot Local Garden greenhouse, 4,000 square feet is dedicated as growing space while the remaining space is used for packaging. Produce is grown in trays stacked 12 high and circulating on conveyers to give plants even exposure to heat, light and humidity. The greenhouse produces significantly higher yields with less than 10 per cent of the water required for traditional field agriculture. Virtually all excess water is recycled.

The Local Garden vertical farm will operate year round. Its controlled growing environment shelters its produce from contamination and irregular weather patterns that are challenges for growers of traditional field produce.