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Eco-lessons in Cheese and Architecture
Editorial by: Aristofanis Soulikias

Situated in Ontario’s burgeoning Prince Edward County, the Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company produces high quality goat and sheep cheese for all regional restaurants. The company exemplifies sustainable practices in both cheese production and the building housing it.  It began as the dream of an ex Toronto executive and her husband, who acquired a 20-acre site in the area and commissioned Lapointe Architects, who delivered it by 2008.

The factory adheres to a modernist aesthetic and overlooks a small creek and lake.  It follows the model of a winery and is open to the public for retail sales and tasting.  Most importantly, it is a place of demonstration and serves a didactic purpose, the tours given by Lapointe himself being quite popular.  The business model anticipated well the new tendency amongst consumers at the time to know the origin of what they eat and how it is made, not only to ascertain its nutritional quality, but also its relative harmlessness to the environment.  Thus the factory sold cheese, and, along with it, lessons in how to model a production that was environmentally friendly in its totality.

The plan of the circulation, although mindful of the strict hygienic standards, allows for each stage of the process to be visible through triple-glazed walls presenting the company’s production as a show-case and the building as an experimental model for green production facilities. Interactive digital screens are programmed to provide information about the cheesemaking process as well as about the environmental features of the building. [3]

To achieve what the company calls “Green Cheese”, there are several green building applications, including an extensive geothermal network that mitigates refrigeration, the use of Durisol (a type of concrete block manufactured from post-industrial waste wood chips mixed with cement slurry), the collection of rainwater for toilet use, an on-site wind turbine, and photovoltaic panels that produce 10% of the building’s electrical needs.  The remaining electricity is acquired from Bullfrog Power, a green energy producer.  Consequently, Fifth Town uses 67% less energy than similarly sized facilities and salvages the environment from 29 tons of CO2 annually.  Additionally, liquid waste whey, sanitary waste, and production wash water are disposed in a constructed wetland, which neutralizes their toxicity. [3] When completed, Fifth Town was Canada’s only Platinum LEED manufacturing facility and the only Platinum LEED dairy in the world [2].

The founders of the project sought commercial success through contributing to the local community, not only in promoting and showcasing sustainable local dairy production, but also educating the public on sustainable architecture.  In other words, its key principle was to demonstrate how sustainable practices in cheese production and the premises that house it can be holistically integrated.  In the words of Kassun-Mutch, Fifth Town’s cofounder:

“Fifth Town, for me, was not just about cheese. It was also a wonderful opportunity to apply what I had learned so far in life and business, to the design and launch of a brand new, forward-looking, social purpose enterprise with an emphasis on sustainability.” [2]

The enterprise went through a transitional phase as it shut down in 2012 and was reopened a year later when it changed ownership [4].  Fifth Town was clearly an ambitious venture that involved sophisticated building technology and cheese production methods.  It also catered to a clientele which appreciated the ideas of eating local, clean energy, and low carbon footprint.  Could it educate the uninitiated into responsible consumers?

[1]"Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Project | Project 10325." Canada Green Building Council, https://leed.cagbc.org/LEED/projectprofile_EN.aspx.
[2] “Fifth Town Cheese Suspends Cheese Production, Retail Store Still Open."  County Live (2012). https://www.countylive.ca/award-winning-fifth-town-cheese-company-has-closed/.
[3] Leslie, Jen. “Green Cheese." The Canadian Architect 54, no. 1 (2009): 27-31.
[4] Riedl, Sue. “Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Set to Reopen." The Globe and Mail, 2013.https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/fifth-town-artisan-cheese-set-to-reopen/article12040284/

Project Title: Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company
Lapointe Architects
Place: Prince Edward, ON

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