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Rooftop Gardening Podcast Transcript

Recently, rooftop gardens have experienced a surge in popularity. Listen to Antoine Trottier, Rosa Moliner and Tamer Almaaitah discuss the applications of rooftop gardening.


 

Full Transcript

Avery Parkinson

Welcome to In the Weeds, a podcast dedicated to discussing everything to do with food sustainability and urban agriculture, indoor growing food, insecurity, resource consumption, and anything else we think is exciting or important. I'm your host, Avery Parkinson.

Avery Parkinson

In recent years, rooftop gardens have gained a lot of popularity for bringing a bit of nature into dense urban centers where free space doesn't necessarily abound. Sometimes it's just meant to add some greenery and a nice place to spend time, but sometimes it can also be used to grow food. Today we're going to be talking about rooftop farming. We first spoke with Rosa Moliner, who is the community outreach coordinator at Leaf of Farms. Can you talk about the need that Luffa Farms was designed to fill and why you think the work you do fit so well into Montreal's existing food system?

Rosa Moliner 

The need Lufa Farm was designed to create or to fill was by growing food where people live and doing it more responsibly. We are on rooftops, so we have our greenhouses that are on rooftops, and that way we're able to produce food year round, which isn't necessarily possible in our climate. So we are located in Quebec, Canada, so it's not always conducive to growing year round. And we also work with local farmers, artisans, food makers to create that local food engine. So we play a role in both growing, but also, you know, creating links to people to their food. 

Avery Parkinson

One of Lufa Farms’ missions is to reconnect users with where their food comes from. How are you going about doing that? 

Rosa Moliner

We grow on rooftops in the city where people live, so growing on rooftops, we also tell our partner stories. So if you look at our marketplace, you'll see that every product has kind of a story about where that food is from, who grows it or who bakes it, etc. So really reconnecting. And we also have open houses in our community program, which teaches in school visits, we host weekend workshops and also our greenhouse. Our Huntstick greenhouse is open to the public, so that's how we really try to reconnect people with their food. 

Avery Parkinson

Why do you think this idea of people knowing where their food comes from is important? 

Rosa Moliner

So it's the ability of essentially making an informed decision. It's quality, it's freshness, it's reconnecting people to where their food is from and how it's grown. So that's really important when you decide to, I guess, buy locally. 

Avery Parkinson

Have you noticed any changes in the general public's, or at least your clients understanding of food production? 

Rosa Moliner

Especially in the past year, there's been a big shift towards people's understanding of the supporting the local food system. And we definitely saw this last year when our subscriber base doubled overnight and we've stayed pretty consistent since then. So since last year, there hasn't been a major drop off, so we've kept that growth throughout. So that really demonstrates how people interest is peaking towards local food food that's grown more responsibly. And that's what we're trying to embody right here at Lufa Farms. 

Avery Parkinson

One of Lufa’s philosophy is that rooftop farms are not meant to replace local farms. Can you talk about why partnership is important? 

Rosa Moliner

So we grow in our greenhouse itself, we grow about 75 varieties of produce, but partnering with local farms, this gives our lucrative that's how we call our clients access to so many more products, such as potatoes and carrots, that you can't really grow them hydroponically, so that's what that does. And also they have access to so many other products as well. So anything from bread and dairy or plant based options and local farmers that might be growing elsewhere in Quebec, they now have access to different clients that they might have not had access to in their kind of regular area. So they have access to the Montreal market, for example, or near Ottawa, Gatineau, and kind of the Eastern Townships. What do you think the future food looks like, and how do you hope that rooftop farming fits into it? We're definitely trying to grow more sustainably, doing it with less resources, growing food where people live, having more rooftop farms. And I think it's important that people also that are other producers and other people that grow as well look into more sustainable or better ways of growing food. We're definitely trying to grow more sustainably, doing it with less resources, growing food where people live, having more rooftop farms. And I think it's important that people also that are other producers and other people that grow as well, look into more sustainable or better ways of growing food. 

Avery Parkinson

That was Rosa Moliner. To learn more about Lufa Farms in their work, visit montreal.lufa.com. We also spoke with Antoine Trottier, who is the founder of La Ligne Verte, another Montreal based company that builds the infrastructure for rooftop gardens. They formed a partnership with IGA Famille Duchemin and now grow and sell their produce in store.

You use a bio intensive model to grow your food. What inspired this? How did you decide on this model? 

Antoine Trotter

The agriculture on the rooftop, it makes sense. When you have a green roof, it provides a lot of advantages for the community and to make it productive, it's kind of the cherry on the cake. It makes sense. It's a space that it's usually not use by a building owner. Sometimes the green roof is a hassle because he has to hire somebody to maintain it, and that way he doesn't have to pay for that. And also, you can have a rent for a farmer and the farm on the rooftop, like it's the best space for sun, for having sun. And you don't have a lot of invasive - but a lot of animals that could ruin your crops or like, you're kind of safe on a rooftop, and it makes sense to make it that way. Our project is a bit special because it's more on the economical part of the spectrum compared to other projects in urban agriculture that are more educational. Our aim was to prove that it can be sustainable and that it's a good model for other buildings. 

Avery Parkinson

What are you aiming to achieve through your green roof?

Antoine Trottier

The farm on the green roof? It's been there like, of course, we've visited the Brooklyn Ranch before that, which is an amazing project, and we got inspired by that. And we told ourselves when we visit, I was with Patrice, we told ourselves we can do that, we can do the exact same thing. And at the time, we were friends with a farmer that wanted to try it, too. And it's been a bit, I'll say, a strain of luck. We've been lucky to find this project. It was big enough so it would make sense. And why we cultivate in a bio intensive way. It's just the way it is these days. We have a strong movement. I think it's worldwide. But in Quebec there's a book that I've been really promoting, and a lot of young people have been inspired by this book. It's a book about biointensive farming, like an example of a guy, Jean Martin Fortier, who decided to make a farm forest to make him and his family live through bio intensive farming. And he's been really keen on giving all these tips and tricks so people could do the same as them. So it's kind of inspired, really a movement in Quebec. So we are too inspired by that. 

Avery Parkinson

Since you've started at the IGA, have you noticed any changes in your client's interest in where their food comes from or how it's produced? A bit like the project, the way it's structured, we are the farmers and we sell to a store base, which sells the produce to the IGA, the grocery store on the main floor. So there's a bit of disconnection from the grower to the buyer. But after the first year, we had a debriefing with the brothers who are the owners of the grocery store. And yeah, just in terms of numbers and just the stories they've heard through their clients because they're pretty close to their clients. And they've seen people switching from buying normal products to go to organic products produced on the roof. And they've seen it in terms of numbers, like the increase in sales because it was more attractive and people didn't want to buy the vegetables in this grocery store. They much prefer, for example, going to the market, but because we were there, like the people were getting to the store to buy this, so it can be pretty attractive for them. And what's cool about the project, too, is like there's a place in the grocery store with all our vegetables and even install a TV screen so we can see the farmers doing their work while you're doing your grocery. So it's kind of cool.

Yeah. And of course, there's all kinds of visits, visits with schools around, and it has attracted attention. So we give it back. 

Avery Parkinson

How has partnering with the IGA influenced your success but also the IGA success? Yeah. 

Antoine Trottier

There's so many beneficial things happening with this partnership. Like for just on a production level. As I said, everything we produce is sold on site, so we don't have to organize any transport in time to sell at the market. Like, it's pretty labor intensive too. It makes us more credible. And it's a huge company. They have many projects, they have other grocery stores coming. So we're always part of the discussion. We are an option for other stores and having the success we had. Like with this project, it helps to build other projects, the aim is to make more of this kind of project, to have a group of farms so it can be beneficial for the farmers. Like to have something consolidated, like one place that we buy, like in huge stock, like the seeds, all the entrance for the roof. And it can be good for farmers too, in the future that comes with this project. So we can concentrate on cultivating and not necessarily selling and marketing. So I think it's a good aspect of this partnership. Like we can concentrate on the work

Avery Parkinson

That was Antoine Trottier. To learn more about his work and the work of La Ligne Verte, visit their website, ligneverte.net. 

Now. Rooftop gardening for all its benefits of creatively using space, accessing healthy produce, affording greenery, and forging partnerships, does have a lot of secondary benefits which we might not immediately think about. We spoke with Tamar Almaaitah, a graduate student in civil engineering at Ryerson University. 

Tamar Almaaitah

My name is Tamar Almaaitah. I'm a PhD candidate in civil engineering at Ryerson University. Our project is a part of the Design Lives program. Design Lives and insect funded program that trains engineers, architects and scientists to design and implement green infrastructure. In terms of what my research focuses on, my research focuses on the environmental benefits of a green infrastructure, which of course, includes rooftop farms. These environmental benefits include ebb and storm water management and microclimate improvement. Although there were a few studies on rooftop farms, most of these focus on the social and economic aspects but did not consider environmental benefits that would help us as we are increasingly experiencing climate change. A critical step towards a better understanding of the environmental benefits of green infrastructure is to monitor their performance. 

Avery Parkinson

Where did you get the inspiration to study this idea and why do you think your research is necessary? 

Tamer Almaaitah

During my undergraduate studies, I became highly interested in green infrastructure. Research does not apply. It is based on scientific evidence, and the evidence is that green infrastructure can provide multiple benefits to the environment and the well being of people. But I also realized that there is difficulty in convincing decision and policy makers on the importance of a green infrastructure. So green infrastructure does provide multiple benefits, and we do need to convince the policy makers and decision makers on the importance of green infrastructure. There is some advancement on this within the Canadian context. So yes, we do have some good regulations about green infrastructure, but this is not the case in many countries around the world. So this is the starting point where I became passionate to show and to quantify the benefits of a green infrastructure, which would encourage a wider implementation and perhaps future funding as well. I believe this is important because with the rising problem of climate change, we need to start thinking about how green infrastructure would help us adapt to climate change. Climate change negatively impacts the environment in different ways. We now have extreme rifle events that result in floods. We are also experiencing higher temperatures, especially in urban areas. So as I mentioned, monitoring is a crucial step. Sorry, this is not something I mentioned, but one of the things I want to talk about is the monitoring of green infrastructure. So monitoring is a crucial step to understand and to quantify the benefits of a green infrastructure. Whether it is outdoor or indoor gardening, the performance would be different and to provide benefits, we need to monitor their performance. The problem is that typical monitoring is not easy. It is costly. You need to buy expensive equipment, and you need to hire a workforce that can do regular site visits and do the maintenance activities. This is why I utilize the concept of the Internet of Things, or what is known shortly as IoT in my study, which allowed me to carry out the monitoring using low cost sensors and that also reduced human interference. So right now there are many opportunities where owners of the green infrastructure can monitor their systems or at a reduced cost. 

Avery Parkinson

Why do you think rooftop gardening is important for urban agriculture, and how do you think your research adds to that? 

Tamer Almaaitah

Urban agriculture is not always possible in cities due to the fact that cities generally are crowded. So we do have a lack of space on the ground level, and this is where rooftop farming becomes an opportunity. So we do have a lot of buildings. It's an open area. But those roofs, or in most cases roofs are not utilized as urban rooftop farms. So the idea is that we can take advantage of the space on the roof to start doing some agricultural activities which would help everyone, the environment, the society, and all the members of the community as well. 

Avery Parkinson

For listeners who don't know, can you explain what the Internet of Things is and how the Internet of Things is being used in this research context? 

Tamer Almaaitah

Sure. So the Internet of Things refers to the Internet working of objects that are equipped with sensing and communication technologies to share data and information on the Internet. So this is just a general definition of it. But in the context of my research, we can think about it as many local sensors that are distributed around, let's say a rooftop apartment farm measures or measure continuously and in real time the environmental parameters of the farm and sending those parameters over the Internet to a dashboard that a user can review from their place without the need to come to the site and download data or do a physical inspection. So in this case, we are reducing costs and we are reducing the pressure on the workforce to go to the site and do regular inspections. And this also is in line with something else, a significant barrier to implement a green infrastructure. So you can always convince people to have a green infrastructure, but the problem is that they feel that those systems may need extra care or regular inspection, so they may not have the resources the time to go and check what their system is doing. So with this technology, you can receive text messages or emails about a particular failure. So it's just like an alert system, and then you go and fix whatever needs to be fixed. So let's say you have flooding in one of the drainage layers of a green roof or of a rooftop farm. You will receive a message, you will know that, and then you will be able to quickly solve this problem. 

Avery Parkinson

How do you hope your study influences how rooftop gardening is done going forward? 

Tamer Almaaitah

What I want to mention here is that in 2009, Toronto was the first city in North America to adopt a bio to require and govern the construction of a green roof. And that is really a great thing in our city. So it talks generally about the green roof. There's no mention of agricultural activities. So I'm hoping that by understanding the differences between typically green roof, which everyone or most of us may be familiar with, and rooftop farms, which is actually something novel and new, I hope that the bylaw will be modified to encourage owners of the new reconstructed building to implement rooftop farms, or at least implement some agricultural activities on their rooftops. This, of course, would be governed by the structure and capability of the building, because, as you know, if you're having a rooftop farm, then probably you need a building that could take all of this load. The producers and the crops are, and also it would require some funding. So it depends on if there are initiative funding programs available like that throughout the process of your research, have any secondary questions or areas of exploration come up that you think are worthy of pursuit? Yes. So basically, the more I research the benefits of the green infrastructure, which also includes rooftop urban farms, the more. I realize that the judgment should not be black or white. So green infrastructure provides multiple benefits but we need to admit that some systems, Some choice of a plant or some choice of the plant, the choice of the soil May provide some benefits but also some drawbacks and this is where future research Needs to focus on how to make the best of this trade off relationship. So for example, you could have Some sort of a plant that provides you with good thermal benefits but they reduce the storm water retention, on the other hand. So yes, you are providing thermal benefit but you're reducing the benefit of the storm motor management. So this is also important to consider when you design the project or when you design the system and depends on where you are. So if you are in a city that is very risky in terms of flood and storm water management. So our priority is to design for stormwater management if the city is fine in terms of stormwater management and the problem is climate change, high temperatures, everyone complaining about hot summers. So perhaps we need to design for the hammer comfort of the resident. 

Avery Parkinson

In your opinion, what do you think the future food looks like? 

Tamer Almaaitah

Well, basically I feel that the main benefit or the main goal of rooftop gardens was food security. Right. And this is of course One of the most important Social aspects that we cannot ignore. But I believe that when, for example, I'm a water resources engineer So when engineers or landscape architects, they touch on the technical sites, they touch on how these systems, they do not only provide food security but they also have benefits for the climate or for the environment, then you're actually encouraging for a wider adoption. So they do provide multiple benefits, whether these are economic, social or environmental. So combining the benefit of food security with other benefits would result in a wider implementation. 

Avery Parkinson

That was Tamar Almaaitah. We hope you enjoyed this episode of our podcast. If you're interested in learning more about Just Vertical and our work, Follow us at @justvertical on Twitter, @justvertical on Instagram or visit our website, www.justvertical.com. Stay tuned for our next episode where we'll be discussing more about urban agriculture, food sustainability or really anything else important or exciting that we feel like talking about.

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