Agritecture: Making the Most of Our Roofs

Hello everyone! Welcome to Urban SimpliCity, where I’ll be bringing to you some (hopefully) interesting ways we can make our cities more environmentally and people friendly and really simplify our lives in such a complex world.

One of the largest sustainability problems we face in the city is our lack of agricultural space.  Cities thrive on their density and benefit from mixed use spaces which cover work, home, and entertainment all in one – but those spaces very rarely cover bigger picture uses such as our food system.  This is where agritecture comes in.

Put simply, agritecture is agriculture + architecture, it’s how our buildings can help us by producing food.  Agritecture became a buzz word this summer when Toronto was ranked the second best city in North America for green roofs.  The term ‘green roof’ alone of course does not mean that any food production takes place, a green roof can be something as simple as native grasses and wildflowers, which have other benefits but do not produce food.  But, while rooftop farming may still only represent a small percentage of green roofs, I’ve found some interesting examples of those who are pioneering the way.

One of the easiest ways to grow food on a rooftop is simply by using planter boxes.  This option is great for retrofitting, as Eastdale Collegiate has done here in Toronto.

Eastdale CI by Karen Stintz

The rooftop at Eastdale CI used to be an old tennis court, which probably made it the perfect place to attempt a retrofit because the roof was already meant for regular use and weight loads were most likely not as much of a concern as they would be on other buildings.

The school partnered with FoodShare Toronto for this initiative, and has over 450 garden planters with things like peas and strawberries, as well as 100 shiitake mushroom logs and a dwarf fruit orchard.  Though I’ve never had the chance to see it myself, it looks quite gorgeous!  The photos here are actually provided by Toronto City Councillor Karen Stintz from Doors Open 2014. Let’s hope they participate in another Doors Open event, because I would love to check it out!

Eastdale CI by Karen Stintz

Lufa is another company changing the face of urban food systems by creating hydroponic rooftop greenhouses on industrial buildings.  I heard Mohamed Hage, Lufa’s CEO, talk about the Montreal-based company last Thursday at Sustainable Buildings Canada’s Green Building Festival and his talk is actually what inspired me to write this first post!

By EvaBlue

Lufa’s greenhouses cut down on energy use not only by absorbing sunlight to heat the glass, but also taking in the heat loss from the building below.

The synergies that can be produced between building and farm are amazing!  Mohamed discussed how closed-loop operations could be taken further in potential future models by connecting the building and greenhouse vents so that excess heat can be returned to the space below to offset the building’s heating costs.  Another potential loop could be indoor air quality improvements, circulating stale air from inside the building through the greenhouse to pick up both oxygen and humidity when needed.

By EvaBlue

Lufa’s planting system is a hydroponic hanging system, which reuses 100% of it’s water.  This helps cut down on both the massive plots of land that traditional farming uses, and the sheer water intensity that growing produce usually requires.  It also helps make the farm more rooftop friendly, because without soil there is less mass to worry about.

By EvaBlue

Lufa currently has three greenhouses, and with that alone they are able to feed 1% of the population of Montreal with their fresh, local produce through a farm-to-consumer drop-off delivery system.  From what I understand the greenhouses are not public but they do run public tours, so it’s a great opportunity for people to actually see and learn where their food is coming from as well!

You can see more in Mohamed’s TEDx talk here:

So, so far we’ve seen a farm on top of a school, and a farm on top of an industrial building, what’s next?

Well, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts also has numerous rooftop gardens around the globe, which allow the chain to gather fresh, organic, local herbs and spices for their restaurants every day.

“There’s nothing more exciting than being able to [harvest] something and then put it on a plate within the hour,” Fairmont Royal York Chef Collin Thorton told CBC.  It’s something that makes both the chefs and patrons happy, I’m sure!

Rooftop agriculture is about more than just convenience though.  It’s about internalizing the externalities, shrinking our ecological footprint, and becoming more self-sufficient as urban centres.  It also means we get to know where our food is coming from, and who has grown it for us!

Let me know what you think of these projects or agritecture in general in the comments below!


Feature image credit to Steph L, all other video/images credited as linked.

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