Talk about slashing food miles; 'fresh from the roof' is as local as it gets.
When an IGA supermarket in the Saint-Laurent borough of Montreal was told by the city that it had to install a green roof on its 25,000-square-foot building, owner Richard Duchemin went an unconventional route. He built a big, beautiful organic garden on top, where 30 kinds of vegetables are grown organically in soil watered by the store’s dehumidification system. Two employees tend the produce – beets, kale, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, radishes, and basil, among others – and package them for sale downstairs, where “fresh from the roof” has become a fun new tagline.
What’s interesting about this garden is that the vegetables are grown using soil, rather than the hydroponic systems that are more commonly encountered on rooftops (like the amazing set-up at the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv). Duchemin wanted to do it this way so that the produce could be certified organic by Ecocert Canada. It is difficult to keep soil fertile on a rooftop, so an agronomist was brought in to develop a proper fertilization plan.
The rooftop also features eight beehives that produce 600 jars of honey each year. These are sold in the store below. There has been some trouble with insect pests, but the gardeners are trying to offset that naturally by planting deterrent wildflowers. Eventually the store may start selling its rooftop-grown fresh-cut flowers, too.
Duchemin told the Montreal Gazette that he hopes to inspire other supermarkets with this project, said to be Canada's biggest rooftop garden:
“People are very interested in buying local. There’s nothing more local than this… Some restaurants have little boxes where they grow herbs. We pushed it further because we know we’re able to sell what we produce here.”
He has noticed a decrease in energy costs, as well, since the garden insulates the roof in wintertime. The store itself is LEED Gold-certified. As you can see in the promotional video below, the garden paths have been laid out to spell the name ‘IGA,’ apparently visible from planes landing at Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport.
It’s wonderful to imagine a world where industrial-sized buildings transform their roofs into urban gardens. It makes so much sense to use those vast, flat, sunny spaces to grow food for the surrounding neighborhood and eliminate (or at least reduce) the need to import produce from elsewhere, especially during Canada’s brief growing season. It creates valuable, meaningful, healthy work and makes more of a profit for the store than simply planting vegetation on top. Such gardens don’t even have to be run by the store; other urban farmers could rent the space from which to start a market gardening business or CSA program.
When it comes to urban rooftop gardens, the sky’s the limit.