Lufa Farms: transforming urban agriculture toward sustainability

Over 50% of the world population currently living in urban areas and this number is expected to continue to rise swiftly in the near future. Clear-cutting forests for new agricultural lands to feed the growing world population is the leading cause of global deforestation. Continual destruction of a valuable carbon sink, the lungs of the Earth, should not be the basis of our means of survival. On top of this, much of the produce found in grocery stores have come from thousands of kilometres away, which takes immense amounts of energy to transport, store and package this produce. This food system is a mess and is the master of its own destruction. This is why creating an urban agricultural system that can meet the food needs of high-density populations locally is so important for the future

EditedDSC00499Last Saturday, team ISP was so fortunate to be able to attend Lufa Farms‘ Earth day open house event. It makes me a bit sad that I cannot support this wonderful business since I do not live in Montreal at the moment, but if I ever move back, I will definitely support them the best that I can. Here is a recap of all the cool stuff we learned about Lufa Farms at the open house, and this information can also be found on their website.

Lufa Farms started out in 2011 with their rooftop greenhouse in Ahuntsic, distributing just 300 baskets of locally grown produce to Montrealers. Since then, they have expanded to three locations on the island and distribute 12000 baskets per week. They represent the heart of sustainability and act as a model for other sustainable businesses. I am so impressed with everything they do (and a little bit obsessed), mainly because they are doing everything right and doing it with the right mindset. They run by five main principles that work toward, saving water, energy, space, and reduce waste and chemical inputs.

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To conserve water, all of the crops are grown using a hydroponic system, which alone reduces water consumption of the growing process by 50-90%. They also recirculate all of the water used for irrigation, so that none of the water enters the municipal water system. This reduces excess nutrient runoff to the St Lawrence river basin, which is the main cause of oxygen depletion in those waters. To reduce additional water, they use snow melt and rainwater in their irrigation system as well.

Since the greenhouses are located on rooftops, they get more solar insolaEditedDSC00494tion than a greenhouse that is located on the ground. The minimal heating that the greenhouses need occurs only at night, and the use of semi-transparent curtains prevent excessive heat loss during cold winter nights, reducing the amount of heating actually needed. What little heating of the greenhouses that takes place is done using natural gas, however, since the produce is being shipped locally, within hours of the time it is harvested, no energy associated with refrigeration, storage or packaging of the produce is required, offsetting the energy used for heating.

EditedDSC00473I was a bit skeptical of the idea of a rooftop greenhouse, but when it’s done right, like at Lufa Farms, it is actually such a great idea. Since they are on rooftops, they are using space that would otherwise be useless and using it for productive land. This reduces the need to clear more area to grow food and reduces pressure for intensive agricultural practices on current farm lands. In theory, it would only take the area-equivalent of about 19 shopping mall rooftops to meet the produce needs of every Montrealer. This is something that is so achievable, and this excites me so much.

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Another great thing about Lufa Farms is that they are very conscious about reducing their waste as much as possible. All of the discarded plant matter and produce that has gone bad is composted on-site, which diverts a huge amount of organic waste from landfills. This is so important because when organic waste is sent to landfills, it cannot decompose due to the highly anaerobic conditions of the landfill. This produce huge amounts of methane, a really powerful greenhouse gas that contributes largely to climate change. By composting on-site, a beautiful nutrient-dense compost can be produced and used in gardens and for growing other plants at Lufa Farms and nearby.

EditedDSC00500Last, but not least, Lufa Farms does not use any harmful pesticides, fungicides or herbicides on their food. Alternatively, they use biological pest control methods, which are methods that use organisms or their products to control pest organisms, in this case insects. Essentially, these methods take advantage of natural/native predator-prey systems within the insect world with the overall goal of reducing impacts of chemicals on the environment.

I love what Lufa Farms is doing so much, because it is all so important for sustainability and for the future of urban food systems. This business should act as a model for more North American urban agricultural initiatives.

Zero Waste with Guest Star Paige McNeely – Podcast #6

Today we talk about going Zero Waste, the Montreal plastic bag “ban” and various CSAs in the region with our guest Paige McNeely.

Zero waste update (March)

This update is quite late and I’m sorry about this, but March and April were really hectic months, mainly because of a combination of the intense solar storm(s), time change, and end-of-term school work pileup all hitting at one time. Nonetheless, my war-on-plastic has progressed rather successfully through this time. This post will cover the month of March, where the goal was to eliminate all waste associated with soap and shampoo/conditioner. If you’re just tuning in on my zero waste journey, I am taking the whole year of 2018 to transition to a zero-waste lifestyle, and each month is dedicated to eliminating a different type/source of waste from my lifestyle. Each month is outlined in this post.

As I progress further through my zero waste journey, it seems to only be getting easier. It’s an exciting feeling every time I know that my actions have successfully diverted waste from a landfill. March was the month to eliminate waste from shampoo and soap, which went remarkably well. I am very sorry this post is super late, but here I will share with you how I replaced soap and shampoo/conditioner in my life to make them zero waste.

A while back in February, I attended a workshop at school on how to make homemade soap and it was quite enlightening. It was a lot of fun and I learned so much. The recipe we used can be found at the end of this post.

In terms of homemade soap being in the cards for my zero waste quest, I don’t think it is feasible or is the best option necessarily. This is mainly because many of those ingredients need to be purchased in packaging. Distilled water usually comes in plastic containers, some of the oils can be purchased in bulk, but the others, I have yet to find them not in packaging. The safety equipment we used was all disposable, which I was not happy about considering that reusable options are very easily available. I also have no idea how lye is packaged normally, or where to get it alternatively. Lastly, parchment paper isn’t easily reused or easily recycled once it has been used. Therefore, I mainly chalk this up to a great learning experience, but not something that I would likely be doing again.

In terms of what is feasible for me in my zero waste quest that makes way more sense in terms of reducing waste would be to purchase bars of soap that do not come in any packaging (sounds super simple wow). I have seen these around in several stores, such as Bulk Barn, some natural food stores and places like Lush. We still have so many bars of soap that we haven’t used yet that people have given us (we haven’t had to buy soap for almost two years now) because I guess we smell or something. We will use those first before buying any new soap bars, but this is the plan for when we do. This way there is even less consumer waste than homemade soap.

Purchasing liquid soap is essentially off the table because it is always in plastic packaging. I have found some waste-free alternatives to liquid dish soap and hand soap that I find useful. The one I prefer is located here and it is super simple to make. I find that if you use a bar of castile soap then this is good to use as dish soap, and if you use a hand soap bar, then it is good to use as liquid hand soap.

Replacing dishwasher soap is something that took the entire month to master, because I had to try various proportions of ingredients to get the right one that wouldn’t leave gross baking soda residue on the dishes. Finally, the proportions that make my dishes perfectly clean and shiny are:

  • 1 part borax (a natural salt that comes in a cardboard box)
  • 1/2 part baking soda (comes in bulk)
  • 1/4 part table salt (comes in bulk)
  • White vinegar in the rinse section and a splash at the bottom the of the dishwasher (trying to find a non-plastic packaging alternative to this, but so far I’m just accepting it)

It is important to mix the three powders together really well because it’s hard to distinguish them when they are all in a container together and if they are fully mixed.  to Then I put about 1.5 tbsp of  in the soap dispenser, because where I live, we have soft water, but for places with hard water, then it seems like 2 tbsp would be needed.

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For shampoo and conditioner, these were easy to replace, since shampoo and conditioner bars are widely used for camping and travelling. Shampoo and conditioner bars are also really easy to find with no packaging. So far, I got mine at Lush, and they don’t seem to be too expensive in terms of the amount of use that you can get out of them. There are probably slightly cheaper options available, but not necessarily without packaging, and not that I have come across yet.

As for some great events that happened this month that are contributing to the global war-on plastic, many places around the world have moved forward to potentially ban single-use plastic straws and some other things. The places that I have seen articles about are Scotland, McDonald’s in the UK, and some places in Montreal (hometown pride). To support this, I have also stopped using plastic straws and invested in some metal straws.

In sadder news, I have shed many tears over the whales that have died recently due to being completely full of plastic.

Homemade Soap recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 18.5oz olive oil
  • 12 oz coconut oil
  • 9 oz sustainably sourced palm oil
  • 1 oz shea butter
  • 5.8 oz lye
  • 13.5 oz Distilled water
  • essential oils

What we did to make the soap was weigh out all the oils and the shea butter on a scale, combine them in a saucepan and melted them together. While the oil mixture was cooling to room temperature, the lye was measured out and dissolved in the water (in the fume hood, while wearing gloves, safety glasses, and a face mask). It is also super important that the lye is poured into the water and not the other way around. As the lye dissolved, an exothermic reaction happened, which caused it to heat up. Once all the lye was all dissolved, then this mixture was cool to room temperature as well. Once both mixtures reached room temperature, the lye mixture was poured into the oil mixture and the two were blended together using a hand blender until the mixture became light and smooth. Once this is done additional ingredients can be added, for example, we added 10mL of lavender essential oils, but any essential oil can be added. Additionally, things like poppy seeds, oatmeal or coffee grounds can also be added as exfoliants if desired. Then the mixture was poured into a soap mold (like a loaf pan) that was covered in parchment paper and left to solidify for 24h. Then the solidified soap was cut into bars and and left to ‘cure’ for 3 weeks. This was just to ensure that the excess water was all evaporated before using it, otherwise, the soap would dissolve more easily when being used.