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Lufa Farms opens indoor farm at former Montreal dist. centre

The Saint-Laurent facility will produce over 20,000 portions per day at full potential

IMAGE: Lufa Farms' first indoor harvest
The indoor farm's first harvest. (Courtesy Lufa Farms)

Montreal-based Lufa Farms has opened its first indoor farm at a former Sears distribution centre in Saint-Laurent which is already home to what Lufa says is the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse.

The 1.6-million-square-foot Greater Montreal building was purchased by Montoni Group in 2019, and converted into a multi-tenant industrial building.

Lufa Farms has doubled its tenancy with the 160,000-square-foot indoor farm adding to the 163,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse which opened in 2019.

“We have a few hundred employees that every day build the baskets, the orders of our customers. It's not only from our vegetables that we grow, but as well from 300 local suppliers, food makers and growers, which we're buying from. We'd say there are 2,000 different (products) that are available on our online farmer market,” Jean-Michel Vanier, Lufa Farms’ vice-president of finance, told SustainableBiz.

“It's a B2C (business to consumer) model we're operating from there in that building, and we're servicing 30,000 (families) every week.”

Lufa Farms, founded in 2009, has over 600 employees and ships 25,000 baskets of vegetables each week. It grows over 50 varieties of vegetables at its four rooftop farms. Products are sold exclusively via Lufa's online marketplace.

Lufa’s indoor and rooftop farm

Lufa's indoor farm grows lettuce, spinach, celery, basil, kohlrabi, fennel and watercress. It will harvest more than 20,000 portions per day at full potential, which is expected to be reached later this year. Currently, it is only at 10 per cent of its production capacity.

According to the company’s 2021 data, its rooftop farms produced 56,310 pounds of vegetables each week.

The new indoor farm is 160,000 square feet. Lufa Farms decided to open an indoor facility to grow more products as its business increased after the pandemic. There was available space on the fourth floor of the building, which was being used for short-term storage.

“We know that indoor farming has not been very successful. So far, it's not proven a record of profitability. But the way we've done it with our Lufa sauce . . . we think is the right way,” Vanier said. “Production has just started a few weeks ago, but we're confident that we can grow veggies in a very efficient way.”

Lufa’s sustainability features

Vanier explained the rooftop farm is using half the energy of other greenhouses, thanks to its location.

Both the indoor and rooftop farm use a single-level hydroponic system, the technique for growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil.

"The water is going on the rooftop, on the plants within channels. The plant's taking whatever it needs and then rejecting the water in the channel. It's going down in the big tanks, and it's batched again with new nutrients. So it's recirculating,” Vanier said.

“Also, it's a closed loop, so we're not losing any water. We're using very little water as well. We’re recycling from the rainwater.” 

There is also a composter on site and an electric HVAC system. Thanks to the rooftop greenhouse, the indoor farm is consistently cool – around 20 Celsius.

The indoor farm uses approximately 1,000 energy-efficient LED lights and the building utilizes Quebec’s largely clean electricity grid.

“It's all electric, and during winter months, we don't need to heat the place, its gonna be warm enough. With the lighting, we're just not going to cool down,” he explained. “So it should be very energy efficient.

"Again, it's all on paper, because we haven't been through winter months yet.”

While it is not certified organic, Lufa Farms does not use pesticides, insecticides or fungicides.

Once the indoor farm has been in operation for a few months, Vanier said the company will “crunch the numbers” and examine its total emissions and costs.

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