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Montreal Entrepreneurs Creating Greenhouses Atop Warehouse Roofs

Talk about creative real estate projects. How about developing a greenhouse atop warehouse roofs? The greenhouse produces fresh produce for the operators and fresh revenue for the building owner.

It's happening in Montreal and soon could spread to several warmer climates in the U.S., speculate persons familiar with the enterprise.

Montreal-based Lufa Farms expects to complete construction by year end on a 31,000-square-foot commercial greenhouse on top of a two-story warehouse building owned by Toronto-based BTB Real Estate Investment Trust and headed by Michel Leonard.

Lufa has signed a 15-year lease for the property's roof, and plans to start seeding it with tomatoes, eggplants, arugulas, and other vegetables early next year, according to its co-founders, Mohamed Hage, president and Kurt D. Lynn, vice president.

Lynn concedes the leased space is small but still workable. He and Hage plan to look for larger rooftop sites in Montreal in 2011.  They think they could find the space and lease it for about 50 Canadian cents to C$1.50 per square foot per year.

On his web site, Hage boasts Lufa Farms "created the world's first commercial-scale greenhouse on the roof of a commercial office building.

"The event has been heralded as a milestone in urban agriculture and a potential 'game changer.' But creating this new type of city farm was a difficult task."

Hage says, "It is a significant social conundrum that so many people see the necessity of growing food within urban spaces and yet there are so few efforts to actually do so on a commercial scale actually exist."

Hage says Lufa Farms wasn't the first to come up the idea of rooftop vegetable farms. Others considered similar ventures but never followed through.  Hage says he knows why.

"It's not because of the myriad of engineering issues that must be confronted to build a structurally safe and viable farm on a roof," he writes.


Kurt D. Lynn

"No. It's because government, and the agricultural industry, have an intrinsic bias favoring traditional and conventional farms. We encountered such obstacles in almost every phase of the project.

"The first that was encountered were building code specifications. Definitions existed for greenhouses on the ground, but not on building.

"The second, obstacle was zoning. In order to put the greenhouse on its office building the area had to be re-zoned as agricultural.

"Finally, while a variety of local and federal farm financing programs exist, few would recognize the concept of a farm in the city.

"It was difficult to even find a farm financing agency office within the city! At one point, my team and I had to drive almost an hour out of Montreal to meet with one farm financing agency at their office closest to the city."

Prior to his involvement in Lufa, Hage co-founded Montreal-based Cypra Media, now one of the largest, permission-based email service providers in Canada.

Hage says on his web site he has "a keen personal interest in environmental science and, particularly, in the challenge of renewable energy."

As vice president of Lufa Farms, Lynn is responsible for its business planning, direct-to-consumer operations, member and produce marketing, and communications.

A long-time business consultant and entrepreneur, Lynn co-founded ListenUP! Canada, the largest hearing-healthcare chain in Canada.

Prior to ListenUP! Canada, he was founder or senior executive of a half dozen enterprises in North America, including: Kolvox Communications, NEBS Computer Products Division, OpenComputing, VisiCorp Personal Software, and Digital Equipment Corporation.

As for Leonard, president of the company that owns the building that will house Lufa Farms' first mini rooftop farm, he tells The Wall that if the project succeeds it will mean new-found revenue for his firm. 


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