Not So Viable After All: North America’s First Vertical Urban Farm Files for Bankruptcy

The operations of North America’s first-ever vertical urban farm have come to a screeching halt.

Alterrus Systems and subsidiary Local Garden Vancouver have declared bankruptcy. The Canadian company owes creditors more than $4 million and claims to have zero assets.

Locals grew excited in August 2012 when plans were drawn up to build an urban farming system on the top level of a downtown Vancouver parking lot. The farm was launched in November of that year. The 5,700-sqaure-foot facility planned to produce more than 150,000 pounds annually, operating year-round.

“We believe this technology has the potential to transform Vancouver’s food system,” said CEO Christopher Ng at the time. “The greenhouse is a viable commercial operation producing fresh, healthy greens sustainably.”

That optimism gave in to a darker reality this month.

“As in many bankruptcy proceedings, it is regretful that many stakeholders will not be able to recover their losses, particularly since they have supported the cause with real value,” reads a statement from Alterrus addressing its financial ruin. “It is never an easy decision for a management team to make as the impact is often sudden and possibly unexpected.”

Evidence was building last year that Alterrus may have been in trouble, according to locals.

“I used to buy their stuff,” said Walter Smith, a resident of Vancouver who believes in fresh produce. “But it moved so slowly on the shelf.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson, who in 2012 touted Alterrus’ urban vertical farm as a demonstration of “the innovative spirit in our city’s booming clean tech sector,” is disappointed in the company’s fall but noted that the city is still filled with successful local food companies and that the rent Alterrus paid on the space generated more revenue than parking would have.