We all know that the more local our produce is, the better it is for us and our planet. It can stay on the vine longer, doesn’t need to be transported as far, and helps support our local economy. At this grocery store in Montreal, Canada, buying local doesn’t get much closer than this: they grow organic veggies right on their rooftop.
Grocery Store Organic Rooftop Vegetable Garden
Back in 2017, the IGA Extra Famille Duchemin in the St-Laurent borough of Montreal was required by the region to install a green roof. Rather than looking at this requirement as a nuisance, store co-owner Richard Duchemin saw it as an opportunity. (1, 3)
Instead of just creating a green space on the roof, he decided to work with green roof installation company The Green Line: Green Roof to use the store’s 25,000 square-foot roof to plant a vegetable garden. Here, they grow certified organic produce that they harvest and sell in the store below. (1, 2, 3)
“Why don’t supermarkets plant vegetables on their roofs? Some restaurants have little boxes where they grow herbs,” he said in an interview with The Montreal Gazette. “We pushed it further because we know we’re able to sell what we produce here.” (1)
The garden is now home to more than 30 different types of certified organic produce, including tomatoes, kale, lettuces, radish, eggplant, and basil. (1, 2, 3)
How it Works
Most often, urban rooftop gardens are hydroponic, as that alleviates the need for soil. At IGA, however, they knew they wanted to be able to grow certified organic produce, and for that, they were going to need soil. (1, 2)
Growing a garden like this on a roof is more complicated than growing a regular ground garden for a variety of reasons:
- Soil. The soil is much more shallow than a traditional garden, only 150 mm (5.9 in) deep. This limits what types of produce they can grow, for example, some root vegetables such as potatoes are not an option. (2)
Fertilizing this soil is also a challenge. Shallow-growing plants typically don’t require much fertilizer or assistance to grow, but vegetables are much more demanding than that. The garden team had to bring in an agronomist to help them develop a fertilization plan for their niche environment. (2)
- Extreme conditions. Rooftops are high-exposure areas for sun, heat, and wind. Windbreaks and shade houses had to be installed to protect the produce from these extra-intense elements. (2)
- Secure plant stakes. The soil isn’t deep enough to just stick growing stakes into and walk away. Instead, they filled plastic buckets that would have otherwise been tossed out with cement and inserted steel rods into those to be used as stakes. (2)
An Environmental Gold Star
The garden does more for the environment than just reduce the transport of product and provide space for important bird and insect species. It also helps the store maintain its LEED Gold-certified status as a green building, which is the highest possible standard achievable. The rooftop garden provides a layer of insulation, effectively lowering heating costs for the building. (1, 2)
The garden is irrigated using recycled water from the store’s dehumidifying system that would have otherwise just been poured out. It has also created a habitat for important bird and insect species, such as bees. There are several hives on the roof to provide homes for them. (1, 2)
Insects that eat and destroy the produce are of course not welcome, but lead gardener Tim Murphy has come up with some solutions. He avoids using even the pesticides permitted for organic gardens and instead has planted flower types that repel unwanted bugs with their scent. Eventually, they hope to sell cut flowers from the rooftop as well. (1, 2)
A Grocery Store Game Changer
Sobeys, the grocery store chain that owns IGA, is watching St-Laurent IGA’s garden experiment closely. If this is successful, then hopefully more grocery stores across the province of Quebec and perhaps even across the country will follow suit in the years to come.
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