News Coverage
Source - Hyperlocal
April 13, 2013
Lettuce, new houses, and the buzz at the corner store
At the bottom of Hamilton Avenue, my neighbourhood collides with the industrial end of the harbour; to the east, cranes criss-cross the sky. For about half a block, things get a little bit... dodgy. Police are frequently called to the homes that face the big, blue warehouse.

And the warehouse? It specializes in hydroponics. But not the kind you think. For twelve years, that warehouse has housed The Lettuce Farm, producing 3000 heads of lettuce every week for St. John's restaurants and retail customers.

A lettuce farm in the city is a very big deal.

Newfoundland produces virtually none of its own food. About 10% of what's in our grocery stores is of local provenance, and it's almost entirely eggs and milk, and a handful of vegetables in season. In rural areas, the supermarkets' offerings are supplemented with fresh-caught fish, backyard produce, and local meat. But for us city folk, everything is shipped in.

In the event of an import-halting hurricane or the zombie apocalypse (who knows?), we're good for omelets, and not much else.

Those outside the neighbourhood may have heard about The Lettuce Farm when a proposal came before City Council to develop the property into a urban-agriculture-real-estate project.

That proposal involved transforming the warehouse into condos which would co-exist with the hydroponic farm, recycling carbon dioxide and residual heat from an on-site laundromat to grow and enrich the lettuce.

But the booming real estate market has caused the developers to tweak their plan. Current development specs are for nine modern townhome units, each with a rooftop garden. The laundromat will be moved, and that section of the building will be redeveloped into homes as well.

The Lettuce Farm will move to an alternate location. Owner/operator Chris Snellen can't reveal yet whether the farm will stay in the neighbourhood, but the details should be available soon.

Snellen is working with “one of the major breweries in town” on a system to trap and recycle their CO2 emissions to enrich the lettuce.

But what about adding swanky townhomes to this semi-derelict strip? According to the buzz at the corner store an influx of moneyed residents might put pressure on certain landlords to clean up their properties, and to deal with some of their more troublesome tenants.

“Things are coming up anyway,” says a shop clerk, in a way that suggests that she might like dealing with a less volatile clientele.

And it's true: a block over, a private school backs on to a laneway with lovely restored buildings. The last few tumble-down houses in the neighbourhood may soon be things of the past.