Archive for January, 2011

These may be some of the coldest days on record in Montreal, but one warm spot is Concordia University’s Rooftop Greenhouse, in the heart of downtown.

Accessed from the 13th floor of the Henry F. Hall building on De Maisonneuve Boulevard, the greenhouse is a long and narrow construction that hugs the side of the building’s top floor. Sun was streaming in through the windows on the day I visited, and the air was heavy with that earthy, plant scent that I associate with Montreal’s Botanical Garden greenhouses.

An initiative of Sustainable Concordia (a multi-stakeholder initiative seeking to create a more ecologically, socially and economically sustainable university community), the greenhouse is an all-organic space geared towards education and research, sustainable horticulture and community-building.

Greenhouse coordinators

Ruby Jean, greenhouse communications coordinator, and Arlene Lynette Throness, greenhouse coordinator

“Everything in the greenhouse is a demonstration of urban agriculture,” explained Ruby Jean, a communications and women’s studies student, and the greenhouse’s communications coordinator, as she gave me a tour. Indeed, exciting projects are underway in each little room branching off from the main hallway.

  • The Atrium is a community space used for workshops and events. Students are welcome to hang out in the Atrium any time, and can even brew themselves a cup of tea from some of the dried herbs from the tea project (see below).
  • Tea project: in large plant boxes in the Atrium, all kinds of herbs are being grown to make tea; a dryer is also being built to dry the herbs.
  • Aquaponics project: this is a self-sustained system for simultaneously cultivating plants and fish, while minimizing energy and water use. The fish excrement feeds the plants, and the plants feed the fish. People can eat the food being grown, but they can also eat the fish. This demo project uses goldfish, which no one plans to eat, but larger-scale installations often use tilapia.
lettuce project

The lettuce project: a demonstration of vertical planting

  • Lettuce project (microgreens): started a few years ago, this successful and lucrative project is run by Arlene Lynette Throness, a geography student and the greenhouse’s coordinator. Arlene grows the different varieties of lettuce using vertical planting (see photo) to maximize space, then sells the young, tender leaves to university cafés.
  • Vermicomposting: with this kind of composting, great for indoors, you feed your organic waste to earthworms. Workshops given by compost coordinator Noémie Messier-Guimont are highly popular; she also sells starter bins (containing earth + worms) to the public.

Last year, the greenhouse gained publicity through its cooperation with Vert ta Ville, a group that aims to build a network of urban agriculture organizations on the Montreal Island through skill sharing and resource trading. In the spring of 2010, Vert ta Ville produced over 15,000 seedlings in the greenhouse, supplying more than 20 gardens throughout the city. Seedlings for 2011 will be started soon.

Aquaponics 1

Aquaponics: fish feed plants, plants feed fish, people eat both

Admittedly, the Concordia greenhouse is not a demonstration of energy efficiency. That’s because it’s actually part of the building’s original structure (initially used by the biology and geography departments). When it fell into disuse and was slated to be torn down, Sustainable Concordia stepped in to the rescue. Thus the greenhouse has existed in its current form only since fall 2009. Last year, a wall was knocked out to create the student-friendly Atrium.

Although the greenhouse has four part-time staffers, all the individual projects are run by volunteers—students, professors, or non-Concordia people interested in urban agriculture. Because of this, “the greenhouse is ever-changing,” said Ruby.

Just like Montreal’s weather.

Greenhouse Atrium

The Atrium often houses workshops and events. Foreground: herbs from the tea project.

Cob bench

Also in the Atrium is a cob bench, part of a project on natural building materials spearheaded by Stefanie Dimitrovas of the Montreal Permaculture Guild.

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