You won’t find fresher supermarket fruits and vegetables in Montreal than the seasonal selection at the IGA Extra in the city’s Saint-Laurent borough. The new rooftop garden isn’t just the first grocery store to start growing its own produce in Canada. No, the Duchemin family’s exciting new grocery store addition is also the largest certified organic garden on a roof in the country.
It began with meeting the borough’s demands that half of the store roof be a green roof, so why not make it even better than that? As any grocer knows, there’s a growing demand for locally grown food, and it doesn’t get any more local than transported downstairs. The Duchemins grabbed the idea of covering both things at once.
Working with The Green Line, a local green roof installation company, the Famille Duchemin team turned far more than 50% of their roof into productive space. Though growing in just under 6″ (15mm) deep soil beds put some limitations on what they can grow, there are over 30 different crops under cultivation in the rooftop garden. But they also have a longer season growing on the roof of a large building, able to sow crops earlier than on the ground, thanks to the heat the building radiates. They will also be able to grow longer into fall under a cold tunnel poly house.
Of course, if you’re going to reap an awesome harvest from a rooftop garden, you need bees. So, Richard, Daniel, and Francis Duchemin struck up a partnership with urban apiarists, Alvéole. So, there are hives of honey bees on top of the IGA store too, busily pollinating the crops and turning the collected nectar into honey that once potted this fall, will sell alongside the rest of the Fresh from the Roof harvest. The goal for 2017 is 600 jars of honey, which will have a signature flavor.
While they aren’t able to grow corn, potatoes, and carrots atop the IGA, the selection covers lots of delicious crops from strawberries, lettuces, and herbs to eggplant, bok choy, and heirloom tomatoes. Naturally, once tantalizing plants are in place, undesirable insects arrive. But they’re sticking to the no-spray, organic produce plan by planting bug-shooing flowers among the fruits and vegetables. The proprietors are considering adding fresh-cut flowers to the harvests they sell from their rooftop garden. They do have more space up there to expand a bit, and perhaps a few chickens would work wonders at controlling bad insects too.
The IGA Extra Famille Duchemin is a certified LEED Gold building, and the insulation layer of the growing beds just adds to that, but they’re also irrigating the crops with water recovered from the store’s dehumidification system. Many supermarket owners might wonder at the wisdom of diving into growing their own produce, but the Duchemins aren’t worried about that at all. They know every food will sell, and being locally-grown just makes it that much more attractive, especially when it’s certified organic.
Co-owner Richard Duchemin wonders, “Why don’t supermarkets plant vegetables on their roofs?” Indeed! The world is weary of tossing half their pricey long-traveled lettuce in the trash because it’s mashed into tiny packages and rotting at purchase. We are weary of tasteless fruit picked when it’s green, gassed to take on some color, and bred for transport instead of our enjoyment or nutrition.
While many of their competitors are no doubt taking stock of what’s going on at the IGA Extra, Sobey’s Inc., which owns the IGA brand in Canada is keeping a close eye on the project. If the Duchemins’ project proves successful, they’re interested in possibly replicating it with rooftop gardens as green roofs on more grocery stores across Canada.
The IGA’s Frais du Toit (Fresh from the Roof) sells inside their store and at the Bois-Franc Market on Saturdays.
Images courtesy of IGA Extra Famille Duchemin via Facebook.
If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.