Opportunities 2015

Montreal’s Urban Barns pioneers a green new take on the factory farm

Long posited as an environmentally- and cost-friendly concept, Urban Barns is turning “vertical farming” into reality

Urban Barns’ vertical lettuce-farming facility in Montreal

Urban Barns’ vertical lettuce-farming facility in Montreal (Richmond Lam)

Vertical farming—indoor food production that doesn’t rely on pricey farmland—is no longer confined to research laboratories and non-profit community projects. Urban Barns, based in Montreal, opened a facility in June where it grows lettuce, kale and assorted micro-greens for use in local restaurants. The plants are arrayed on vertical conveyor belts programmed to move automatically, ensuring the vegetables receive enough water, nutrients and light from custom LEDs.

The process, according to CEO Richard Groome, emits less carbon dioxide and consumes less water than traditional farming. This month, Urban Barns starts shipping to a handful of grocery stores in New York. By stretching upwards, it also aims to grow 300 heads of lettuce per square foot in the near future. (A typical farm grows two.) “We think this is truly a revolution,” Groome says.