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Is Urban Agriculture Commercially Scalable?

  • Posted by SHFT on August 25, 2014 in Food
  • Flavie Halais for Citiscope:

    In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences and microbiology at Columbia University, popularized the idea of large-scale urban agriculture by releasing a conceptual model for vertical farms. Crops would grow inside tall city buildings, using very little land to produce bounties of food that would not need to be shipped far to be eaten. With nine billion people worldwide to feed by 2050, and close to 70 percent of them residing in cities, bringing food production into dense urban areas had long been seen as a logical step toward sustainable living, and Despommier’s work seemed to take us in the right direction.

    Fifteen years later, despite many experiments with farming inside city buildings, the first large-scale vertical farm, as envisioned by Despommier, has yet to be built. The urban farming industry, still in its infancy, is struggling to address the engineering challenges that make growing food in cities a costly business. Sales and distribution have also proven harder than almost anybody imagined. “What’s been lacking,” says Mohamed Hage of Montréal, “are players who will do it at a true commercial scale, with the right business model.”

    Hage is trying to fill exactly that gap with his company, Lufa Farms. His path to scaling up urban agriculture is not vertical but horizontal. In 2011, Lufa set up the world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse on top of a wide industrial building in northern Montréal. The area, a nondescript industrial zone bordered by two highways and an outdoor mall full of big box stores, doesn’t turn up in design magazines. But this is where Hage, after spending hours painstakingly scouring Google Earth, found the perfect rooftop for his next-gen greenhouse.

    The 31,000 square-foot facility (2,900 square meters) uses hydroponics, a technique that uses water to deliver nutrients and therefore requires no soil. Lufa’s methods exclude pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, and use biological pest control to get rid of harmful bugs. The greenhouse is computer-monitored, recirculates 100 percent of irrigation water and composts all organic waste. And in a cold-weather region with a growing season of four to six months, Lufa works year-round, growing enough tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis and lettuce to help feed 10,000 people in the Montréal area.

    Lufa’s biggest innovation has little to do with farming techniques or architecture. It’s marketing and e-commerce. Lufa sells its produce through a complex distribution system that puts to shame the usual get-what-you-get offerings of farm co-ops found in many North American cities. For a minimum of $30 a week, Lufa customers select what goes into their basket through a fancy online marketplace (Sicilian eggplants have never looked sexier). To fill out its product offerings, Lufa partnered with a slew of other local food makers to provide customers with all kinds of products, from fresh bread to dairy, to herbs, honey and dry beans.

    Article continues at Citiscope.

    Photo credit: Lufa Farms

    In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences and microbiology at Columbia University, popularized the idea of large-scale urban agriculture by releasing a conceptual model for vertical farms. Crops would grow inside tall city buildings, using very little land to produce bounties of food that would not need to be shipped far to be eaten. With nine billion people worldwide to feed by 2050, and close to 70 percent of them residing in cities, bringing food production into dense urban areas had long been seen as a logical step toward sustainable living, and Despommier’s work seemed to take us in the right direction.

    Fifteen years later, despite many experiments with farming inside city buildings, the first large-scale vertical farm, as envisioned by Despommier, has yet to be built. The urban farming industry, still in its infancy, is struggling to address the engineering challenges that make growing food in cities a costly business. Sales and distribution have also proven harder than almost anybody imagined. “What’s been lacking,” says Mohamed Hage of Montréal, “are players who will do it at a true commercial scale, with the right business model.”

    - See more at: http://citiscope.org/story/2014/can-urban-agriculture-work-commercial-scale#sthash.Qavnye1P.dpuf

    In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences and microbiology at Columbia University, popularized the idea of large-scale urban agriculture by releasing a conceptual model for vertical farms. Crops would grow inside tall city buildings, using very little land to produce bounties of food that would not need to be shipped far to be eaten. With nine billion people worldwide to feed by 2050, and close to 70 percent of them residing in cities, bringing food production into dense urban areas had long been seen as a logical step toward sustainable living, and Despommier’s work seemed to take us in the right direction.

    Fifteen years later, despite many experiments with farming inside city buildings, the first large-scale vertical farm, as envisioned by Despommier, has yet to be built. The urban farming industry, still in its infancy, is struggling to address the engineering challenges that make growing food in cities a costly business. Sales and distribution have also proven harder than almost anybody imagined. “What’s been lacking,” says Mohamed Hage of Montréal, “are players who will do it at a true commercial scale, with the right business model.”

    - See more at: http://citiscope.org/story/2014/can-urban-agriculture-work-commercial-scale#sthash.Qavnye1P.dpuf


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