How this Muslim founder built a successful urban farming company in Canada

Imagine a city that grows most of its food on its very own rooftops, where tomatoes ripen on the vine year-round—even in the dead of winter. That’s the idea behind Lufa Farms, which operates four rooftop greenhouses in and around Montreal, a city in Canada and delivers more than 25,000 fresh-picked vegetable baskets to its customers every week.

Founded in 2009 by Mohamed Hage and Lauren Rathmell, Lufa sprouted from the idea that urban farming could grow crops where people live, without using any new land, and deliver food without the carbon footprint of long-distance transportation. (In Canada, 92 per cent of imported produce travels more than 1,500 kilometres.) “When you buy a tomato in the winter, you’re probably getting one that’s been trucked in from California or Mexico,” says Rathmell. “We deliver ours right to you the day after they’re picked.”

Hydroponic technology helps Lufa’s greenhouses operate sustainably, recycling about 90 per cent of the water used by the plants. In lieu of pesticides, ladybugs and parasitic wasps devour aphids and other pests. Using residual heat from the buildings below, each farm requires half the energy of greenhouses on the ground. Meanwhile, the company’s programmers keep operations nimble with greenhouse automation. Software manages delivery logistics while allowing customers to tailor their own baskets, choosing from 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, plus other items, like bread and cheese from local producers.

Lufa Farms is one of many similar urban-farming projects around the world, with commercial greenhouses and gardens springing up in places like London, Paris and New York. Analysts predict city-grown crops could eventually make up 10 per cent of the global food supply.

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