VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The roof of an under-used parking lot in downtown Vancouver is being converted into an urban farm — the first of its kind in North America.

The Alterrus VertiCrop Urban Farm System can grow up to 80 varietals, including leafy green vegetables and herbs. Work at the parkade at 535 Richards Street has already begun and the company plans to install the greenhouse next week.

“That goes up very, very quickly,” says Donovan Woollard with the company. “It’s a set that’s come from Holland and the growing system is also fairly modular and goes up fairly quickly as well.”

He says seeds will be planted soon and the first harvest is expected in October. It will take only three weeks for the first crop to harvest.

“It’s about 20 days from propagation, so it’s a fairly high density, high rotation.” he adds. After that first crop matures, it’s a fairly continuous harvest.

“We’d be looking at 500 to 600 lbs of produce harvested about five times a week,” notes Woollard.

The company expects to produce about 150,000 lbs of food annually.

The greenhouse will have a growing area of about 4000 square feet. Another 1,700 square feet is reserved for picking and packaging the produce.

The VertiCrop farm will include 3,000 growing trays, stacked 12 high and suspended from a conveyor. This conveyor will be in constant motion to provide even access to light, heat and irrigation.

“We’re using a combination of natural light, and then we are supplementing with some artificial light to make sure we can be productive year round,” says Woollard.

Excess water will be filtered and recycled. The roof facility will use blackout screens to prevent light pollution from bothering neighbours.

The greenhouse is a closed system, so Woollard says Alterrus will not be using genetically-modified seeds or chemical pesticides to control bug infestations. Instead, a technique called ‘Integrated Pest Management’ will be used.

“That’s using beneficial insects,” he explains. “So for example, if Whitefly might be a species that could impact a crop in a greenhouse from time-to-time, you would introduce another species [of insect] that would compete with [the pest] and not harm the plant.”

This will be the company’s first commercial site in North America. Alterrus has a test facility in the United Kingdom that has operated for three years, allowing them to research which varietals will grow best using the company’s greenhouse system.

Woollard says the company negotiating with local retailers and restaurants to sell its crop. An announcement on that is expected at a later time.

The produce will be sold under the Local Garden label.