the inside scoop with Lauren Rathmell

Lufa Farms Greenhouse Director and Founding Member Lauren Rathmell knows how to grow an abundance of food in a limited space.  The farm’s 31,000 square foot flagship location in Montreal provides roof-fresh produce to 2,000 urbanites every week thanks to the rooftop farm’s hydroponic greenhouse technology.  Like most seasoned growers, Lauren leverages agricultural challenges that arise within the greenhouse as opportunities to improve her farm’s cultivation strategies.  Let’s hear what she has to say about skyline production north of the border.

Lufa Farm's Lauren Rathmell || photo courtesy of Lufa Farms

Lufa Farm’s Lauren Rathmell || photo courtesy of Lufa Farms

1| What is the greatest obstacle your rooftop farm has overcome?

There were so many challenges in getting this project off the ground, but I’d say one of the big obstacles was developing our biocontrol program and figuring out how to combat major pest infestations.  Since we use only biological controls for pest and disease control, it’s challenging to keep up a good program of monitoring and predator introductions.  We sort of thought that we wouldn’t have to deal with so many pests, being in the city and all, but we’ve encountered basically everything.  In our first year, we dealt with an outrageous aphid infestation in our pepper crop and bacterial wilt in our cucumber crop.  The good thing is that these issues taught us how to monitor and prevent major problems, and they led to the development of our scouting software (an custom iPad application used to enter and track pest data from the greenhouse).  We’re now able to map pest and biocontrol populations throughout the greenhouse area, track changes over time, and detect and react to problems much more quickly.  As we’ve grown, we’ve also been able to take the same approach in other aspects of our cultivation, and we’re developing apps and methods for monitoring plant growth and production as well.

2| What piece of advice would you offer to aspiring skyline growers?

Hard work is a pivotal part of the process, so you have to be ready to tackle problems, push through challenges, and constantly make progress.  There are also so many different areas involved in starting large-scale rooftop farms, including construction, engineering, architecture, plant science, agronomy, research, you name it.  So it’s also essential to have a great leader and team builder, someone who can bring all the experts together to make the project successful.

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