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Can vertical farms solve vacancy challenges in cities?

Converting empty downtown office spaces into places to live has been a hot topic in recent months, but TrustBIX dreams of filling Edmonton’s former cubicle farms with fruits and veggies. The company is in talks with prospective landlords to install vertical farms in downtown office space. TrustBIX representatives say it’s their effort to improve downtown vibrancy and food security at the same time.

“Having indoor farms here, growing food here, and feeding people out of here would be one of those things that we can do to address people, address food, and address the empty space,” TrustBIX CEO Hubert Lau told Taproot. Joshua Lau, business analyst for TrustBIX and Hubert Lau’s son, said the company hopes to start growing produce for restaurants in Chinatown before expanding to local grocery stores.

“We’re looking at gai lan, which is Chinese broccoli, choy sum, lots of vegetables, herbs, and spices,” Joshua Lau said. “We’ve been looking at growing Chinese ginger as well because of the health benefits, and having a local source of it would be huge.” Downtown Edmonton office buildings definitely have space for new tenants. The vacancy rate for office space downtown is 24.2%, considerably higher than the national average of 18.9%, according to CBRE’s third-quarter report.

Hubert Lau said renovating an office space could cost roughly $25 per square foot. Contractors would ideally remove walls and carpets. The site would need a space for employees to change from their street clothes. For water to feed the plants, the operation would use PVC pipes, and power for lights would be supplied through network cables. “It’s very conducive to an office environment with minimal effect on the building, so it’s quite rentable after we leave as well,” he said.


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