Montreal Startup Lufa Farms Wants Cities to Feed Themselves with Rooftop Gardens

Posted by Jacob Serebrin

A Montreal startup says cities can feed themselves with rooftop gardens and they’re already seeing success in their home city.

Founded in 2009, Lufa Farms built the world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse in 2011. The company, which recently opened its second rooftop farm, now has 3,000 subscribers in Montreal.

Subscriptions to the service, which start at $30 a week, entitle customers to a weekly basket of fresh organic food.

According to Lauren Rathmell, the company’s greenhouse director, the food is “harvested the same day” it’s delivered.

While many tech startups have intangible offerings, Lufa Farms is different, she says. “We touch people on a basic level; it’s food.”

Rooftops are the “best place in cities to grow food,” says Mohamed Hage, the company’s founder and president, “it’s warm, there’s lots of light on the roof, it fits the bill.”

The company is profitable, says its business development associate James Rathmell. He says the company is proving that their “triple bottom line” business model – a model that involves being environmentally and socially responsible as well as profitable – is commercially viable.

The company is not only gaining customers, they’re also gaining respect. On Wednesday, Lufa Farms won an award from international financial services giant Deloitte. The judges choice award, part of Deloitte’s Fast 50 program, which recognizes fast-growing companies, was give to the team for both their strong business model and their “heart.”

“It’s validation,” says James Rathmell. For Lauren Rathmell, it’s especially validating, “because we’re young and a very small team.”

Lufa Farms wasn’t the only Quebec company honoured by Deloitte last week, with 12 firms making the Fast 50 list. Two Montreal startups, Frank & Oak and Wajam, were named Companies to Watch – a list of fast growing that have been in business for less than five years.

For François Sauvageau, leader of Deloitte's Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice in Quebec, all of these companies have a few things in common, they’re “relentless, international, focused with talented people.”

“Montreal is known for its culture of research and innovation,” he says.

That culture is helping Lufa Farms, says Lauren Rathmell: “Montreal’s a good testing ground, there’s a good community here to support innovation.”

The team’s next step is expanding to other cities. They plan to be in five North American cities by 2015, starting with Boston in mid-2014.

“We’re looking towards Boston while feeding more Montrealers,” she says.

And she says that she’s done the math and believes that cities could be entirely self-sufficient when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables on rooftops.

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Jacob Serebrin

Jacob Serebrin

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance reporter based in Montreal. He specializes in covering small business and the business of tech. His work has appeared in publications including The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. Having previously covered higher education and politics, he started covering business almost by accident, but talking to passionate people about interesting things soon had him... more




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