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  • I'm an urban farmer.

  • So I grow food in the city of Montréal,

  • on the roofs of buildings, believe it or not.

  • And it's something that I'm very, very proud of.

  • It's something that puts a smile on my face every morning.

  • And a while back, I was talking to my aunt in Lebanon,

  • where I'm originally from, I grew up in Lebanon,

  • in a small village that's actually self-sustaining.

  • It's a village that grows its own food,

  • which is hard to find these days.

  • So if a butcher didn't cut a cow that day,

  • we ate vegetables.

  • So there I was talking to my aunt,

  • and I was so excited, and I was telling her

  • how awesome my work is and how we're building green houses,

  • and feeding people right in the heart of the city.

  • And she looks at me and says,

  • "Sweetie, we've been doing this all of our lives.

  • There's nothing new here."

  • And that got me thinking, it's absolutely true.

  • Nothing about urban agriculture is really revolutionary.

  • It's simply a recreation of something that's very, very old.

  • So then why am I here talking to you today about urban agriculture?

  • Why is it an important topic?

  • Well, because we're not eating what my aunt eats.

  • We're not eating what I used to eat when I grew up, back in Lebanon.

  • What we eat today, because we live in cities, comes from very far away.

  • Our food has travelled an average of 1,500 miles to make it to our plate.

  • And food travels as good as a 2-year old child on a plane.

  • Food travels really, really bad.

  • In fact food is packed, re-packed,

  • refrigerated, sold, and resold many times over.

  • And by the time it makes it to the consumer,

  • it's lost its nutrients, it's lost its taste, texture and smells.

  • And actually, the really interesting number is --

  • we're talking a lot about reducing waste --

  • is that when a farmer in an industrial farm

  • is looking at a tomato plant,

  • half of these tomatoes will never make it to the consumer because of this.

  • And the cultivars, and the varieties that are chosen,

  • in terms of industrial farming, are cultivars and varieties

  • that are chosen for their toughness, and transportability and not their taste.

  • There used to be a time where you could choose

  • from 500 different tomatoes to grow in a green house,

  • and now what we're eating is a collection of only 12,

  • roughly 12 cultivars of tomatoes, that are all tough,

  • that will yield very well, that are hard as rocks,

  • but don't necessarily have the same taste.

  • And when you look at industrial farming,

  • the process of industrial farming is far from optimal.

  • Industrial farms today are massive consumers of land,

  • of water, of energy, of resources,

  • and what's been really striking for me,

  • during my research in hydroponics,

  • is that they're very illusive.

  • I spent a good amount of time simply trying to find farms,

  • I actually couldn't find farms, and I ended up concluding,

  • that farms are big black boxes.

  • Not only can we not find them,

  • it's actually very hard to even go inside of a farm.

  • The secret process of growing food, it's illusive.

  • Five years ago, I said to myself,

  • What if you could change the way we grow food?

  • What if you can grow food in a more responsible way?

  • And what if you can create a direct link with the consumer,

  • go straight to the consumer?

  • Bypass the entire network, forget about the distribution network,

  • forget about the wholesalers, retailers and truckers,

  • and go straight to the consumer?

  • And it started off as a bit of a dream.

  • I have a lot of dreams and

  • very few of them actually become projects,

  • but this dream stuck.

  • And with a group of engineers, and architects,

  • I like to call them superheros,

  • 5 years ago we started working.

  • And we started working on a new form of agriculture,

  • what we like to call "Agriculture 2.0".

  • So we started off by asking ourselves,

  • If we want to grow food,

  • how can we grow it in a more responsible way?

  • We knew there were a lot of challenges in the food production process,

  • and we knew that we had to change the way we grew food.

  • So we defined responsible agricultures in four different ways.

  • First of all, using no new land.

  • I think that the previous presenter did a great job at explaining

  • the challenges we have today as we go from 7-billion

  • to 9-billion and with less land.

  • So the good news, it turns out that rooftop spaces

  • are absolutely fantastic for growing food.

  • Someone might look at a roof and think of it as the underwear of a building

  • it's an ignored space, it's a heat island,

  • it needs maintenance,

  • they have to be cleaned every now and then

  • but no one likes roofs, they're the underwear.

  • (Laughter)

  • But it turns out that underwear is an incredibly fertile space.

  • In this specific building, that you see behind me here,

  • we receive over half a million dollars in free energy every single year.

  • Simply from the sun.

  • Not to mention that we receive

  • half of our heating energy from the building below.

  • What's great about being in the city,

  • is the carbon dioxide levels are higher,

  • something else that plants need.

  • So responsible agriculture is starting off by using no land,

  • and using water, a scarce resource, in a more responsible way.

  • So harvesting rainwater, and more importantly,

  • recirculating nutrient rich water,

  • and again, I think the previous presenter explained

  • the importance and the link between blue algae

  • and phosphorous rich water leaching into lakes and rivers.

  • So by having a closed loop system,

  • not only are we growing in a more responsible way,

  • but we're actually saving a lot of money.

  • Responsible agriculture means using no synthetic pesticides,

  • herbicides, and fungicides.

  • And you can actually do this

  • because we've been doing it for many years prior to the green revolution.

  • It works really well.

  • And it's simply by using biocontrols, insects.

  • So we have good insects in the green house, like ladybugs,

  • that actually attack bad insects, such as aphids or white flies.

  • And every now and then, we see them having sex.

  • (Laughter)

  • They love the conditions in the green house for some reason.

  • (Laughter)

  • And finally, responsible agriculture means growing good food.

  • Selecting cultivars and varieties for their taste,

  • for their nutrition, for their smell and texture.

  • Heirloom tomatoes, purple basil,

  • white cucumbers, wild persian grasses.

  • The possibilities are limitless.

  • What we can grow in a green house,

  • what we can feed you guys, is unbelievable,

  • but what we find in the grocery store

  • is only the subset that will transport very, very well.

  • So after defining responsible agriculture, in September 2010,

  • we started working.

  • I'm going to walk you through a few slides

  • that show you the process of construction.

  • What you don't see in here is the 4 years of technology development

  • that went prior to construction.

  • We had to develop our own patent pending,

  • water circulation systems.

  • Polycultures growing systems that allow us to grow

  • multicrops in the same green house,

  • still achieving the same yields as a monoculture grower.

  • We developed water circulation techniques,

  • and microclimate management software.

  • So our entire green houses are managed by a piece of software.

  • But real quick, I'll walk you through a typical construction.

  • We take an existing roof, we keep the existing membrane,

  • we erect a structure, made out of galvanized steel,

  • aluminum, and glass, and this process goes quite fast.

  • Believe it or not, we got this structure up in less than 3 weeks,

  • and you can see, we used some cranes to bring the material up to the roof,

  • and in this case it was a 2-story building.

  • And this is a picture --

  • It shows a bit the inside of the green house,

  • just prior to planting,

  • and you can actually see our energy curtains,

  • another feature that helps save energy.

  • We deploy that during the nighttime,

  • and it envelops the green house, the plants.

  • And the temperature above our energy curtain

  • could be -10ºC, whereas below the energy curtain,

  • is a 22º - 23º C climate.

  • After the construction process, and on February 28, 2011,

  • we planted the first seeds, of the first plants,

  • in the world's first commercial rooftop greenhouse.

  • (Applause)

  • And it's something that we're very proud of,

  • I remember the team really celebrated that day,

  • and we popped a lot of Champaign bottles,

  • and they were not local. (Laughter)

  • They were the good kind. (Laughter)

  • And just 2 months after that very first day,

  • my niece, Maya, at 8-months old,

  • had her first solid food, and it was one of our tomatoes,

  • a cherry tomato grown in Montréal, and she loves our tomatoes

  • and this is something that brings me the most joy,

  • seeing kids going through vegetables like they're candy.

  • And today, almost a year later, we feed 2,000 people

  • with vegetables that are harvested on the exact same day,

  • that have never seen the inside of a fridge.

  • Vegetables harvested in the heart of the city, on a rooftop,

  • using half the energy to heat the building,

  • and a fraction of the water and nutrients.

  • And because of the direct link with our consumers,

  • we distribute our food to drop points,

  • and drop points are universities, coffee shops all over the island.

  • But the process is so efficient,

  • that we only need 15 dollars in fuel per day,

  • to feed 2,000 people.

  • (Applause)

  • And what's been actually a huge surprise to us,

  • is seeing how this little farm in Montréal was able to connect the community.

  • Early on, when we started construction, people would stop by,

  • and would ask us if they could visit.

  • We had requests from universities, from schools,

  • from synagogues, from churches all wanting to visit a farm.

  • And it was really great to see how --

  • To date we've had over 10,000 visitors to the greenhouse.

  • 10,000 people that now understand where food comes from.

  • 10,000 people that have met a farmer.

  • Kids that have seen how a tomato plant grows,

  • how a cucumber should taste like,

  • and that's something that's been a big surprise to us,

  • but it's been a very --

  • I'm ecstatic to see that.

  • And another great moment for me is walking into one of our drop points,

  • between the hours of 3 and 6 pm,

  • and seeing 30 - 40 customers rushing to grab their vegetable baskets,

  • but taking the time to exchange recipes,

  • phone numbers, veggies and to truly connect.

  • So I'm going to leave you with a few images.

  • I think everybody likes images.

  • Believe it or not, the first is actually a picture of the land

  • that used to exist where we have built our greenhouse, 40-years ago.

  • So 40-years ago, prior to the construction of the industrial building,

  • there used to be a farm, and a farmer used to work here, feeding people.

  • For 37 years, that spot was replaced by an industrial building,

  • that contributed to heat islands, and displaced the farmer.

  • The good news is, this spot is once again,

  • a fertile plot of land.

  • Employing many, and feeding many, many more,

  • and helping make our world a better place.

  • So imagine cities

  • that feed their own inhabitants.

  • Imagine communities that are connected by farms.

  • Imagine knowing your farmer, and knowing your food.

  • When we celebrated our first anniversary at Lufa,

  • (Chuckling)

  • what we choose to celebrate,

  • was not the beginning of the construction,

  • it wasn't the end of the construction,

  • it was the day we had the first seeds planted.

  • Because I remember very well that day,

  • our carbon dioxide levels started dropping,

  • and our humidity levels started rising,

  • just as the plants made it into the greenhouse.

  • That was the first beat, the first sign of life.

  • Now imagine cities full of life.

  • (French) Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I'm an urban farmer.