High-tech greenhouse planned for city parkade rooftop

High-tech greenhouse planned for city parkade rooftop

Underused space to produce 95 tonnes of greens a year

By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun December 14, 2011

The roof of a city-owned downtown parkade will be converted to a high-tech vertical growing space capable of producing 95 tonnes of fresh vegetables a year.

Vancouver-based Valcent Products has entered into a memorandum of understanding with EasyPark, the corporate manager of the city’s parkades, to build a 6,000-square-foot greenhouse on underutilized space on the roof of the parkade at 535 Richards Street, in the heart of the downtown core.

The inside of the greenhouse will be anything but ordinary. Four-metre-high stacks of growing trays on motorized conveyors will ferry plants up, down and around for watering, to capture the sun’s rays and then move them into position for an easy harvest.

The array will produce about the same amount of produce as 6.4 hectares (16 acres) of California fields, according to Christopher Ng, chief operating officer of Valcent.

Construction will begin on the project in January, with an eye to harvesting the first crops in April. The greenhouse will cover less than half of the available space on the rooftop, leaving open the possibility that a second, equally productive greenhouse can be built in the future.

Ng reasons that Valcent’s growing technology is a perfect match with Vancouver’s stated goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020. He found the city was not only willing to listen to his idea, but also to act on it. EasyPark came up with suggestions for proper-ties that might work.

EasyPark general manager Mel McKinney for EasyPark sees the VertiCrop installation as a way to promote environmental leadership while repurposing an underused city asset.

“This long-term lease generates direct financial benefit to Vancouverites while showcasing Vancouver’s sustainability innovation,” said McKinney in a quote supplied by email.

“We saw some synergy … between [the city’s] greenest city goals and our technology to grow food in an urban environment,” Ng said.

Valcent has struck the deal with EasyPark and local food supplier PSWJ Holdings to market and distribute the produce.

Talks are also underway with a bicycle-based food delivery company and Ng figures to lure the city’s top chefs aboard once the quality of the product is established.

The VertiCrop system can be used to grow at least 20 varieties of lettuces, herbs and greens, provided they are under 30 centimetres (one foot) tall.

The Richards Street property has good access to light throughout the day despite being surrounded by tall buildings, so no artificial lighting will be required. Heat will be provided by the sun through much of the year and low-car-bon hydroelectric power during the coldest months.

The greenhouse will be clad with fluoropolymer sheets rather than glass to enhance light transmission and reduce the risk of damage due to wind.

Growing greens close to home makes sense both environ-mentally and nutritionally, Ng said.

“In the winter our lettuce comes from California, Mexico and as far south as Chile,” he said. “The food miles are just phenomenal.

“Plus, lettuce loses half its nutritional value in the first 96 hours after you pick it. California lettuce hasn’t even crossed the border in 96 hours.”

The memorandum calls for a formal lease on the parkade space to be signed within 90 days.

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