Lufa Farms started in 2009 with a radical idea: grow food sustainably, closer to where people live. Founder and CEO Mohamed Hage knew this concept was far from new—it has always been at the heart of traditional farming and is still the norm where Hage grew up in Lebanon. Bringing that ethos to urban Montreal was ambitious, though, in part because the long winter in Canada severely limits the growing season.
Hage and co-founder Lauren Rathmell created a business model that’s true to the tradition of local agriculture with a thoroughly modern approach. In hydroponic rooftop greenhouses, Lufa Farms grows more than 75 varieties of vegetables year-round that they sell direct to consumers through a subscription-based service.
When the farm’s over 10,000 members want produce, they go to Lufa Farm’s website and load an online cart with their picks just as they would at a grocery store. Every week, the farm makes deliveries of the selected produce to pick-up points within a two-hour radius of their production site. To scale their greenhouses to meet growing demand for year-round, local produce, Lufa Farms needed to implement a new growing system that could maximize efficiency.
At any urban farm, space is extremely limited. With its newest and largest ever greenhouse, Lufa Farms needed to the scale up operations without sacrificing the quality of the product. The biggest challenge revolved around seedlings. Limited light and space meant that the team needed to design an alternative to their traditional greenhouse setup to propagate seedlings. Because plants are so vulnerable early in their life cycle, creating the ideal conditions for these seedlings is the linchpin of the products’ growth process—and the company’s ability to consistently deliver outstanding produce to customers.
Lufa Farms was skeptical about using LED lights to grow produce because of the upfront cost and the uncertainty of the outcome. On their own, the team didn’t have the technical expertise to assess the exact LED lighting solution that would help their business grow while decreasing risk. Collaborating with Hort Americas and Current erased their skepticism and set them on a new path.
“Our knowledge about LEDs was minimal. We relied on their expertise and their suggestions, and it has been shown to really work. I highly recommend it. A lot of growers don’t have enough experience to be able to make the decisions themselves. People like Chris Higgins at Hort Americas, working with the engineers at GE, can combine the grower’s knowledge and pull that together to make the best decision as to what kind of light concentrations, how many fixtures, etc., are needed,” says Hage.
With their combined expertise, Current, Hort Americas and Lufa Farms developed a three-tier lighting system that adapted to the new greenhouse and facilitated seedling propagation. Installing roughly 430 GE Arize Lynk LED lights in a 7,000-foot space meant the team could grow a range of products in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable way. By aligning the new system’s lighting with their optimal plant density and production goals, the team could propagate enough seedlings to feed their 10,000 customers.
The new growing system from Current enabled Lufa Farms to scale their growth while increasing the speed of seedling production across a diverse range of varieties. A 15% faster seedling production meant that Lufa farmers could grow with higher efficiency, and in turn, optimize their investment by increasing their output.
Beyond the shorter propagation period, Rathmell and the Lufa team noticed greater consistency within each product type, as products grew in optimized conditions during this pivotal period. This uniformity didn’t come at the cost of flexibility, as the system works for 75 different varieties with remarkably different needs and plant developments. Since the initial investment, all 430 lights have benefited from a 100% success rate, proving consistent over time.
“The design we created means there’s a lot more uniformity across the board,´ Rathmell says. “At the same time, it’s quite unique that we have been able to grow many varieties at this volume—and at a faster rate.”
Their success caught the attention of some notable figures throughout Canada. When Lufa Farms launched this new greenhouse with a GE growing system, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited to see the technology up close and support this sustainable farm.
Undoubtedly, GE’s Arize Lynk LED lights helped transform the vision of Lufa Farms’ co-founders into an extraordinary and evolving reality. It’s been so successful that Rathmall and Hage will consider shifting to LED lighting in part of their production area for a fourth greenhouse when the time comes. Given their outstanding track record as a company, it could be very soon.
Want to learn more about how you can work with Current to build your vertical farming or greenhouse operation in a way that benefits your business, and the environment?
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