September 5, 2012

Construction starts on Vancouver rooftop farm


A 6,000 square foot greenhouse is under construction on top of a five storey parkade in downtown Vancouver, B.C.

Construction began recently on North America’s first VertiCrop urban farming system, atop a five-storey City of Vancouver parking lot in downtown Vancouver.

A proprietary technology of Vancouver-based Alterrus Systems Inc., VertiCrop vertical-farming uses hydroponics to grow leafy green vegetables, herbs and salad mixes in a greenhouse.

The greenhouse is about 6,000 square feet in area and measures 40 metres long, 16 metres wide and seven metres high.

It is T-shaped, in order to fit inside the ramps of the parking lot on which it sits.

The greenhouse is pre-fabricated in the Netherlands and erected on a reinforced concrete curb anchored to the floor slab of the parkade.

Alterrus CEO Christopher Ng said the farm’s location, on the top two levels of an under-used downtown parkade, is an ideal site.

“The greenhouse will get plenty of natural light because there are not a lot of adjacent tall buildings in the area,” he said.

Gamut Construction Ltd. is the general contractor and Neale Engineering Ltd. are the project engineers.

The main part of the project will require concrete, electrical, mechanical, steel and greenhouse fabrication contractors.

Irrigation and lighting contractors will install the greenhouse climate and environmental controls.

The concrete for the curb was poured in the last week of August and the greenhouse is being erected in the first week of September.

Steel beams have been installed in a number of locations on the suspended slab floor to pick up the load of the greenhouse walls.

The contractors have just started erecting the components of the VertiCrop, which will take two to three weeks.

During the third week, the climate control system will be installed, along with a boiler and irrigation, lighting, building management and carbon dioxide dispensing systems.

Richard Dornik, president of Gamut Construction, said the project presented a number of unique challenges.

“The project is the first of its kind,” he said.

“It’s almost an R and D (research and development) process. It’s an unorthodox project and we had to educate the city every step of the way.”

One of the biggest challenges the contractors faced was getting the structural components of the greenhouse off the ground and up six storeys to the roof of the structure.

“The parkade was designed to hold cars, not to have another structure built on top of it,” Dornik said.

“We had to block off the street and use a crane to lift the greenhouse parts up to the roof.”

The VertiCrop technology is suspended from a conveyor system inside the greenhouse.

“It moves 120 racks, with 24 hydroponic trays on each rack,” Ng said.

“Each plant gets even exposure to light, heat and humidity.”

The system has the capacity to grow between 150,000 and 200,000 pounds of leafy greens, herbs and salad greens per year.

The produce will be packaged on site and will be delivered to markets in the Lower Mainland on the same day it is picked.

The farm’s produce will be available under the Local Garden brand in grocery stores and restaurants starting in mid-October.

The economic rationale for VertiCrop is that it is an effective way to grow nutritious food 12 months of the year using less land and water than traditional field-farming methods.

“Current food-production methods are unable to deal with the challenges of growing populations and decreasing amounts of farmland, including in the Lower Mainland,” Ng said.

The farm has a number of sustainability features.

“It recycles all the irrigation water that is not absorbed by the crop and therefore uses 90 per cent less water than conventional field farms,” he said.

“The yield is also 20 percent higher than what it would be for field-farmed leafy greens, due to the high-density technology.”

VertiCrop uses no pesticides or herbicides.

And, Ng said, because the greens the system produces are consumed in the same area in which they are grown, the result is a 50 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint.

The Vancouver operation will be Alterrus’s first commercial urban farm, although the company has been operating a non-commercial urban farm at the Paignton Zoo in Devon, U.K. for several years.

Ng said that because the plants are grown in a controlled environment in a greenhouse, VertiCrop can be installed in any city, regardless of its climate.

“Our vision is to have VertiCrop installations in every major city in North America within the next five years,” he said.


The rooftop of the parkade had to be reinforced to support the load of the greenhouse.

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