Rooftop produce grower starts expansion drive

A Montreal "urban farming" business says it’s raised the funds it needs to expand its rooftop acreage in that city and expand its projects into Toronto and the U.S.

Les Fermes Lufa, which operates what it calls the "world’s first rooftop commercial farm" in Montreal, said Tuesday it’s completed a $4.5 million financing drive to build two more facilities in the area and establish Lufa as the "predominant urban rooftop farm operator in the world."

The funds will also be used to begin expansion drives into Boston, New York, Chicago and Toronto, the company said.

"Our new facilities will clearly establish us as the strongest and most advanced fresh-food farm operator in the urban agriculture space by putting well over 200,000 square feet of rooftops under cultivation," Lufa CEO Mohamed Hage said in a release.

"Now that we have completed this round, more than 5,000 families will be obtaining freshly harvested, high-quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and organic local produce from Lufa Farms on a weekly basis."

Lufa’s customers, who live near its current rooftop greenhouse in Montreal’s Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough, subscribe to the company’s basket program, which starts at about $22 per week and delivers fresh goods and "premium" produce harvested the same day.

According to the Quebec government, in a separate Oct. 5 release hailing Lufa’s plans, the company’s current operation yields produce to feed almost 2,000 people per week.

Leading the investment round, Lufa said, were Montreal venture capital firm Cycle Capital Management, Hage and fellow Lufa founders Lauren Rathmell and Dave Furneaux.

Cycle Capital pledged $1.3 million in seed funding to Lufa on Oct. 5 from its Cycle-C3E fund, which was formed in part with a $16.5 million injection from the provincial government, through Investissement Quebec.

Lufa’s plans click with the new Parti Quebecois government’s policy goal of "food sovereignty" for the province, Industry Minister Elaine Zakaib said Oct. 5.

Also taking part in the funding drive are Andrew Ferrier — CEO of New Zealand-based dairy co-operative Fonterra from 2003 to 2011 — and Kubo Greenhouse Project of the Netherlands. Ferrier will also get a seat on Lufa’s board of directors.

The investment from Kubo, which designs and builds industrial-scale greenhouses, includes a deal for Kubo to provide greenhouse technology exclusively to Lufa in North America.

The deal also calls for an "exclusive relationship" in which Kubo will provide its technology as part of Lufa’s expansion plans, the company said.

Kubo’s technology "will ensure that we get the productivity, yields and efficiency that a successful urban farm requires," Hage said Tuesday.

Kubo has previously worked with North American companies such as DeVry Greenhouses at Picture Butte, Alta., Darvonda Nurseries at Langley, B.C., Houweling Nurseries at Delta, B.C., Wholesum Harvest in Arizona and Rockwell Farms in North Carolina.

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