Luke Brocki: How To Make A Local Biz Salad

What does it take to produce a 100% local salad? And how can businesses work together to create a healthy local economy?

These are some of the questions, Vancouver-based journalist Luke Brocki answers in his article exploring the workings and local impact of 100% local business relationships in Vancouver.

Besides tricycle couriers, eateries, and supermarkets, our partner Mission Possible is mentioned as one of the organizations committed to creating a healthy local economy. Mission Possible provides the labour force for North America’s first rooftop vertical farm located on top of a parking garage at Richards and Duns­muir.

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It’s a typically cold and rainy December morning on a rooftop in downtown Vancouver. The revolving restaurant atop the Harbour Centre skyscraper peeks above some closer buildings to the north, the pious spire of the Holy Rosary Cathedral marks south. Steps away, the concrete roof supports a massive greenhouse filled with plants and machines making noise. This is our next stop on an exploration of the power of local business relationships.

“Most of what we’re trying to do is knock California product off the retail shelves,” says Donovan Woollard. He arrived by bicycle, calls himself a social justice advocate and wears blue and yellow plaid, jeans and rain boots. He’s a strategic advisor at Alterrus Systems Inc. and the man behind the business development strategy at Local Garden, the brand that turned the top tier of a city-owned parkade into a sophisticated hydroponic food farm.

“The City of Vancouver is our landlord,” says Woollard when pressed about recent criticism city officials faced for enabling the project. “Most of this parkade sits empty most days of the week. It’s new revenue for the city.”

Local Garden rents the 5,800-square-foot space — 22 parking stalls’ worth — for $2,400 a month. Given our mayor’s green ambitions, the local food proposal was an easy sell to City Hall. A bigger challenge was finding $2 million to finance the project, the company’s first installation after years of research and development.

“Because this is our first commercial install, it’s seen as a slightly higher risk loan,” Woollard says. Alterrus approached a number of different lenders for construction and operational loans. In the end, Vancity’s Community Capital team agreed to roll the dice. Woollard says Local Garden hopes to pay the investment back within five years.

Picking and packing

Inside the greenhouse, a small crew of workers is picking and packing leafy greens in the undergrowth of a space age jungle. Kale, arugula, basil and various lettuces sit in clusters in plastic trays stacked 12-high, the resulting towers suspended from a massive conveyor on a serpentine track whose path delivers bursts of heat, light, water and organic nutrients. Local humanitarian agency Mission Possible provides the labour force: half a dozen residents from the neighbouring Downtown Eastside.

“Most of the folks on site here are going through their work readiness training program, coming back into the workforce after being out due to any number of different life challenges,” Woollard says.

Read the full article at

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