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Lufa Farms uses GE LEDs to produce locally grown food

Case File Facts

COMPANY: Lufa Farms Inc.

LOCATION: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

CROPS: Lufa Farms produces over 75 different varieties of vegetables, including  tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet and hot peppers, leafy greens, microgreens,  kale, herbs, radishes, celery, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, arugula,  watercress, mustard, bok choy and kale. Lufa Farms has a membership of  about 10,000 families called “Lufavores” in the Montreal, Quebec area.  The company produces over 10,000 baskets for weekly deliveries within a  2-hour delivery drive time of its distribution warehouse.

TECHNOLOGY: GE Arize Lynk LED Growing System

Mohamed Hage, cofounder and CEO of Lufa Farms, said after the success he has had using LEDs for vegetable seedling propagation, he plans to look at using LEDs for production in the company’s next greenhouse facility.
Photos courtesy of Lufa Farms/Les Fermes Lufa

Background

Lufa Farms was incorporated in 2009. Company cofounder and CEO Mohamed Hage said the purpose of the company when it opened was to “grow food where people live in order to live more sustainably.”

“That is kind of the company’s mantra,” Hage said. “It’s to feed people in cities. We launched the company with the first greenhouse built in 2010-2011 in Montreal. It was the first commercial rooftop greenhouse. It was a 32,000-square-foot facility where we grew a variety of crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lettuces.

“We started selling the vegetables directly to consumers. The customers would sign up and receive a weekly basket of vegetables.”

In 2013 a second rooftop greenhouse opened dedicated to the production of tomatoes. This 46,000-square-foot facility produces 10 different varieties.

Lufa Farms started harvesting in its largest and most advanced operation in 2017. The 63,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse produces over 40 varieties of greens, including romaine, Boston, butterhead, red oakleaf and green oakleaf lettuces.

Hage said selling directly to consumers is a complicated process.

“Not only do we have to be an amazing grower, but we also have to be able to focus on being good in business,” Hage said. “The reason we chose to grow in rooftop greenhouses was because it was the only way that we could solve the problem of growing locally.

“The traditional food production system is broken. Farmers are far away from the cities, growing food that is going through a maze of channels that are not efficient and are very wasteful. There is a 30- to 40-percent food loss through those channels. There is also the degradation of the quality of food. Also, every person in that channel has to be compensated.”

Hage said selling directly to consumers ensures his customers receive the freshest food.

“For us being able to grow locally, in order to bring this amazing food to consumers, we had to bring the food directly to them on the same day to make sure they were receiving the freshest products,” he said. “It would have been a shame to put in the hard work and grow this amazing food and then find out later it was wasting away on the shelves of grocery stores.”

Photos courtesy of Lufa Farms/Les Fermes Lufa

Challenge

Other than the first greenhouse location, which sits on a warehouse where the food baskets are assembled, Hage said Lufa Farms’ second and third greenhouse locations have a minimal amount of additional space that is used by the company’s staff. He said the rest of the building space is used by other companies for offices or for manufacturing.

“Propagation is a very important part of greenhouse production,” Hage said. “We want to start off with good seedlings.”

Because of the limited space available, Hage said the company had to look at an alternative way to propagate the seedlings.

Photos courtesy of Lufa Farms/Les Fermes Lufa

Solution

The propagation area in Lufa Farms’ third location is in one greenhouse bay. All of the plants are started in a 5,000-square-foot floor area that has three levels of vertical production equipped with GE Arize Lynk LEDs.

“We were going to put the propagation area in the basement, but we wanted the top level of propagation to be lit by natural light so that we were able to get a comparison point between natural light and LEDs,” Hage said. “Only the top level receives natural light. The lower two levels are fully shaded by the upper level. So the lower levels are lit 100 percent by GE LEDs.

“Hort Americas and GE worked together to give us the recommended solution. 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”

Lauren Rathmell, cofounder, greenhouse director and marketing director at Lufa Farms, shows Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau how LEDs are being used for the propagation of seedlings in the company’s new rooftop greenhouse facility.
Photos courtesy of Lufa Farms/Les Fermes Lufa

Benefits

Hage said he considered the investment in LEDs for the propagation area as a big gamble.

“We were initially reluctant to install LEDs,” he said. “This was our first major experience with LEDs. They have proven to be very successful and have worked very well.

“When we build our fourth facility we are definitely going to be looking at adding LEDs to our production areas. That is going to be another interesting step from a production perspective, not a propagation perspective. We can make this profitable as well.”

Hage said he is seriously considering switching from high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps to LEDs in future greenhouses that Lufa Farms builds.

“Obviously the cost is the major consideration,” he said. “What we want to do is establish two years of production under LEDs. We want to know if we can justify the initial cost with the energy savings that we would see over the first couple of years.”

 


For more: Lufa Farms Inc., (514) 669-3559; info@lufa.com; https://montreal.lufa.com.

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Local by Atta rebuilds vertical farm with GE LEDs after devastating fire

Case File Facts

COMPANY: Local by Atta

LOCATION: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

CROPS: Local by Atta produces a variety of lettuces, basil, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, cilantro and microgreens. Products are sold at farmers markets, health food stores, grocery stores, restaurants and through a weekly basket  program. The basket program is expected to increase sales as the company looks to expand with pick up at local businesses, municipal buildings and its new production facility.

TECHNOLOGY: GE Arize Lynk LED Growing System

The Local by Atta team (from left to right) includes: Brandon Petitpas, assistant farmer; Jesse Howatt, co-founder and farmer; Nick Barron, assistant farmer; Julian Howatt, co-founder and farmer, and Svitlana Rastovska, assistant farmer.

Background

Local by Atta was founded by Julian and Jesse Howatt. The two brothers, who grew up on a farm, have professional backgrounds in urban planning.

“Even though we grew up on a farm we have an interest in cities,” said Julian Howatt. “In 2012-2013 we reached a point in our careers that we wanted to start an urban farm together. I had been growing lettuce hydroponically in my apartment. We scaled it up to a shed in my brother’s backyard. In late 2013 we started a small-scale commercial farm and in March 2014 we began selling at a local farmers market.”

Julian said one of the reasons that they chose to do indoor hydroponics was the limitations of an outdoor urban farm.

“With an outdoor urban farm there are limitations with the land that is available and it is more difficult to do very intensive farming,” he said. “Also, our climate is not conducive to long growing seasons because of the short summers.

“An indoor farm provides a major competitive advantage for leafy greens. Except for the summer when there is a local supply, for most of the year the majority of leafy greens are coming from California and other parts of the West Coast. We saw the biggest potential starting to sell our products from September through June. It made more sense given the constraints of trying to produce high yields on a small land-based urban farm to go year-round with an indoor farm using a hydroponic production system.”

When the Howatts started growing hydroponically in their backyard shed they were looking to trial a couple of LED lights.

“We wanted a horticultural quality LED fixture and not just some random LED from a hydroponic store where we weren’t sure about the quality of the lights,” Julian said. “I googled horticultural LEDs and found Hort Americas online. I contacted Chris Higgins and I explained that we were setting up a small hydroponic production facility growing lettuce. I spoke to Chris for about an hour and talked about LEDs and lighting issues and ended up purchasing a couple of LEDs. I also read the Hort Americas case study article on Jeffrey Orkin at Greener Roots Farm in Nashville, Tenn. We eventually contacted Jeffrey because we were looking for other hydroponic farmers to exchange notes with and get some advice.”

Challenge

In late 2013 the Howatts began growing in a commercial building renting 1,500 square feet of space.

“We started off with a nutrient film technique system with PVC channels,” Julian said. “We figured out very quickly that the plumbing for this type of system is much more complex resulting in more issues including leaks, flooding and clogging. We eventually switched over to a raft system.

“Our raft system was five levels high. It was 12 feet high about 24 feet long and 4 feet wide. We had two of these systems. These were our major production systems.”

When the Howatts moved into the building they had limited funds to set up the production facility.

“At the very beginning we started with more fluorescent than LED lights,” Julian said. “We didn’t have a lot of money and LEDs were more expensive. We weren’t willing to make the jump to just LEDs at that point.”

A fire in January 2016 destroyed the interior of the building including $10,000 worth of crops that had just been planted.

Solution

“We lost the entire farm to the fire and had to restart,” Julian said. “We had maxed out the space in the building and had already started considering options of expanding, relocating and scaling up our production before the fire occurred. We restarted the business in June 2016 and started selling greens again in September 2016.”

The company’s new location consists of 7,000 square feet with 1,000 square feet of that space used for office, storage and cold storage.

“Our set up is basically a big rectangular space,” Julian said. “We have the space for six large towers. We have the frames built and are currently using three of them. Each tower measures 16 feet tall, 50 feet long and 4½ feet wide and has six production levels. Each level has two ponds measuring 4- by 24-feet. As we expand we are filling in the frames with the ponds, rafts, plumbing, lighting and wiring. The water reservoir is at the bottom of the tower and the water is pumped up to each level and then drains down to the bottom.

“Of the nearly 6,000 square feet of production area we currently are only using half of that space. By next summer we expect to be using all of it. We have about 4,000 square feet under lights. That will double as we expand. It will be close to 8,000 square feet under lights once we are at full production.”

For the new facility the Howatts chose GE LEDs which they have been using since January 2017.

“After the fire we began looking at rebuilding and we only considered installing LEDs,” said Julian. “We didn’t even consider fluorescents. It was mostly because of power constraints. The fluorescent lamps were consuming too much power and generating too much heat. It wasn’t feasible to add more fluorescents.

“Because of the exchange rates we shopped around for price quotes and even though Hort Americas wasn’t the lowest, what we really liked was the customer service that the company offered and the industry knowledge that Chris had that most of the other lighting suppliers didn’t. The other suppliers we contacted had experience related to greenhouse production, but they weren’t as knowledgeable in regards to indoor farming.”

Local by Atta produces a variety of lettuces, basil, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, cilantro and microgreens. Products are sold at farmers markets, health food stores, grocery stores, restaurants and through a weekly basket program.

Benefits

Julian said one of the advantages of using the GE LEDs is their energy efficiency.

“The biggest constraint for us besides money is the power constraint,” he said. “How much power do we have access to in the building can be an issue. It’s not as simple as just getting more power from the utility company.

“The GE LEDs are more efficient so we can get more light for the same amount of power, which is a nice bonus for us. Most of our crops grow better under the GE lights when they have the same light intensity or when we can give them more light because we can afford the power. Generally for most crops the yields are better and the quality of the product is better. This is especially true for red lettuces. We get better red pigmentation.”

For more: Local by Atta, (506) 233-0393; moncton@atta.ca; http://www.atta.ca; https://www.facebook.com/LocalByAtta.

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Prepared by Hort Americas 2017©          Photos courtesy of Local by Atta

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Creekside Nursery uses GE LEDs for early flowering of long day plants

Case File Facts

COMPANY: Creekside Nursery

LOCATION: Hempstead, Texas

CROPS: Creekside Nursery is primarily a woody ornamental grower that produces  trees, shrubs, succulents, Knock Out roses, ornamental grasses, perennials  and annual color. The company sells to landscapers, independent garden  centers and rewholesalers in Texas and Oklahoma.

TECHNOLOGY: GE Arize Greenhouse Pro LED Flowering Lamp

Creekside Nursery used GE Arize Greenhouse Pro LED Flowering Lamps to flower long day plants, including begonias, mandevilla and hibiscus, for sale in February and March.
Photo courtesy of Creekside Nursery

 

Background

Creekside Nursery has been in business since 1992.

“We grow 200-gallon trees all the way down to pots of annual bedding plants. I’m the manager for the annual color, perennials and tropicals,” said Troy Cox. “Woody ornamentals make up the majority of what we grow.”

Creekside Nursery has a total of about 500 acres of outdoor and indoor production. There are about 40 acres of protected production that includes some unheated winter protection for woody ornamentals. Cox manages about 25 acres of environmentally-controlled greenhouse space.

Challenge

Creekside Nursery had customers that wanted long day plants ready for sale in February and March.

“Our salespeople came to us and said there were customers who wanted product ready in mid-February and early March,” Cox said. “These were plants that it just wasn’t possible to have ready at that time of year under normal growing conditions because they were long day plants. These included begonias, mandevilla and hibiscus. For mandevilla and hibiscus trying to have them in flower at this time you have to have a little help.

“We had a contract grow for an independent garden center that had an ad going into the newspaper in which they wanted to sell begonias on March 11. There were six different begonia varieties, including some new introductions. The plants were being grown in different size containers including 6-inch pots and hanging baskets.

Solution

In order to have the begonias ready for the March 11 ad, Creekside Nursery purchased 30 GE Arize Greenhouse Pro LED Flowering Lamps from Hort Americas. The lamps were installed in a 30- by 96-foot greenhouse.

“I started the begonias at their regular time as recommended by Ball Seed,” Cox said. “The lamps were set to come on between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. every night just like with mum lighting. The begonias flowered earlier and were in bloom and ready to sell by the March 11 ad date.

“I put the hibiscus and mandevilla in the same greenhouse just to trial them under the lights. All of the plants flowered faster than what they would have without the lights. We sold all of the plants that were lit with the GE lamps and the greenhouse is empty.”

GE Arize Greenhouse Pro LED Flowering Lamp

Benefits

Cox said using the GE LED flowering lamps he was able to have all three crops flower faster than if he hadn’t installed the lights.

“The begonias flowered first, followed by the hibiscus and the mandevilla last,” he said. “We were able to get the hibiscus blooming around April 1 with the lights on for about six weeks.”

Based on the success he had with the GE LED flowering lamps, Cox said Creekside Nursery is planning to purchase additional lamps to use on more crops.

“We expect that we will be doing the begonias again next year since it was such a success this year,” he said. “We are also going to try to flower the mandevillas so they’re ready for sale in March and April. Mandevilla is a major crop for us so we will be using the lights on them.

“We probably won’t use the lights on hibiscus. Customers have it in their minds that hibiscus don’t bloom until the summer. However, there are other crops that we want to try the lights on. For the perennials, we will use the lights on echinacea, rudbeckia and leucanthemum. We do small numbers of those crops, but we know the lights will work on them.”

GE Arize™ Greenhouse Pro Photoperiodic LED Lamp

For more: Creekside Nursery, (713) 265-4300; info@creeksidenursery.com; http://creeksidenursery.com.

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Prepared by Hort Americas 2017©          Photos courtesy of Creekside Nursery

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