London Rooftops – Let’s Use Them!

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Photo taken by Dawn Lyons, LinesByLyons.com

The city of London has a lot of empty rooftops, especially in the downtown core. Lots of flat rooftops that just sit there, all day, all night, absorbing heat/cold and getting brown. See the picture to the right from my friend Dawn Lyons as an example – it was taken from One London Place this past June.

So much real estate. So much wasted real estate. What could it all be used for?

  • Solar panels, generating additional income for the owners of those buildings
  • Green roofs, saving money on cooling and heating those buildings
  • Growing food

Wait, what?! Yes, growing food! There’s a new company, called Brightfarms, in New York City that’s doing exactly that – building greenhouses on building rooftops, planting the food, and then harvesting it. They’ve also got the grocery stores they’re selling to signed to 10 year contracts to buy whatever Brightfarms grows, ensuring a steady stream of revenue similar to the way the Province of Ontario has spurred the renewable energy market with the FIT and microFIT programs.

I see this as a way to get locally grown food for the other 5 or 6 months of the year that we really can’t grow much in Ontario. I love stopping at local farmers in Middlesex County and buying corn, cucumbers, asparagus, etc. during the summer months. But what do I do in February? Buy the stuff that’s imported from Chile or California at the Superstore, just like most other people.

That sucks, doesn’t it?

I’d really like to see a local startup, or even an established farmer with some capital, take this on. There’s clearly lots of real estate available, and Brightfarms seems to think they can grow up to 227,000 kg (500,000 lbs) a year on a single rooftop using 90% less water, and 95% less space than traditional agriculture thanks to hydroponic growing methods.

So, who’s the got money? The desire? I don’t have the money, but I certainly have the desire to see this happen in London, Toronto, Montreal, Windsor, Vancouver… wherever! The space is there – we just need to use it in better, smarter ways.

A Sustainable Food Cycle, Part 2

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As a follow-up to my previous post, A Sustainable Food Cycle, I have done some research recently in the interest of covering some more ideas surrounding the subject. Talks from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, pro-business magazines like Fast Company have both been covering the topics recently and I think it’s worth noting. Admittedly this entry will not have nearly as narrow a focus as part 1, but I don’t think that will really matter.

First off it’s worthy to note that Fast Company, a magazine & website all about business innovation, recently put up an article entitled the Ten Best Green Jobs for the Next Decade. The very first job listed? Farmer. Why? Because the move to a sustainable food cycle invites urban/vertical farming to be a part of the solution. Translation – we’re not going to replace the farmers we currently have, we’re going to offset the lack of supply during non-growing months. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Indeed, it may be high time for a former client of mine to realize his dream of it “being a good time to be a farmer” fairly soon. And the message that Mark Bittman, cookbook author, journalist and TV personality, has been espousing recently just lends more credence to that. Continue reading

A Sustainable Food Cycle

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One of the largest contributors to problems in our society in general has got to be the way we’re eating right now. There are people in Canada who crave things like watermelons, cantaloupe and pineapple even in the middle of winter. Clearly none of those things can be grown in either Canada or the US in January without being grown in a greenhouse, so typically those fruits and others are flown/trucked in from thousands of kilometres away.

The result is a vastly inefficient food cycle. Things are even poorly managed locally during the past few years. E. coli outbreaks, listeria, salmonella, etc. The solution? It may be vertical farming. Continue reading