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.

World Water Day: connecting us to nature and outlining the changes we need today

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The world’s waters are in peril and I wrote this post to share my experiences of today in celebration of World Water Day. Today I had the amazing opportunity to attend World Water Day at my university. I even got a fancy name tag and everything. Overall, it was a great day of learning about the amazing water research my colleagues are doing and to share new innovative ideas on how to deal with the world’s water crisis.

The day began with The Water Song interpreted by UW’s Indigenous Students’ Society. This song represents the cultural importance of water to Indigenous communities in Canada. For Indigenous peoples, water is seen as a living thing, a spiritual entity that emits “life-giving” forces. With this, comes the duty and responsibility of its protection and respect by all. This song resonated with the crowd throughout the day, to remind everyone that water scarcity and pollution are not solely ecological and health issues but are merely small parts of the broader holistic perspective recognizing that everyone and everything on Earth are deeply and fundamentally connected and interrelated.

The Water Song fit extremely well into the theme of the day, The Answer is in Nature, A2_POSTER_WWD2018_EN-01which is all about utilizing natural solutions to help solve the world’s water crises. The Keynote speakers,  Tyler and Alex MifflinThey are the stars of their own TV show The Water Brothers, which looks at various environmental issues through the lens of water, aiming to increase the accessibility and understanding of these issues.

With 60 percent of the world’s lakes and 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, Canada is among the most water-abundant countries in the world. Such a fortune, comes immense responsibility that should be followed by examples of protection, preservation, conservation and care. However, Canada is one of the world’s biggest water wasters, consumers and polluters. This was described by Mifflin as The Myth of Abundance which is the idea that we have so much water, we do not need to worry about its quantity or quality, when actually the opposite is true.

In Canada, we may seem very far removed from the current water crisis in Cape Town, however the reality is that it could happen anywhere. Many human activities have disrupted the stability of the Earth’s water cycle to the point of creating a “preferred” water economy, wherein water use and consumption has little to do with natural cycles, but actually has a lot to do with the way humans have modified local ecosystems to meet demand for their desired activities. Water management in Capetown was based on the  more stable climatic conditions of the past, however, human induced climate change has fundamentally altered the water cycle to the point where Capetown’s water management systems simply do not work anymore.

This brings me to my main point, why should we, as Canadians, in the country with such abundant freshwater sources, focus on water issues?

Water is in everything we eat, drink, wear and consume. Our eating and consumption habits connect us to the water challenges all around the world. The water on Earth today has been on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. We share the the water on Earth with all other life forms on the planet now and in those in past and future generations. We are not “running out of water,” per se. With so many people and other living things on the planet, we are running out of ways to provide everyone with the water that they need to live and thrive.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” – Sylvia Earle

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California is facing many issues with water scarcity due to periodic droughts related to climate change and the destabilized water cycle. Canadians have high dependence on California for winter produce, therefore, much of what goes on down there, affects us up here. To mitigate the water crisis, Californians were told that the best course of action was to take individual actions such as taking shorter showers and watering their grass less etc. These are all good things, that definitely have a positive impact on water conservation, however, the agricultural industry is actually responsible for 70 percent of freshwater consumption. It was those agricultural lobbyists that were encouraging other people to use less water so that they don’t have to.

The truth is that the water crisis is global issue that implicates everybody. To ensure availability and sustainable water management and sanitation for everyone on the planet, we have to think bigger than just taking a shorter shower. For instance, think about your own food choices, eating 10 hamburgers consumes the same amount of water as taking 365 showers. By eating less meat you are inherently are saving more water. We must take these individual actions, but we also must put pressure on governments to put adaptive and sustainable water conservation policies in place. These have capacity to make even bigger differences on even larger scales. When people raise their voices, that’s when changes are made. This is why the Mifflins are so passionate about using use their TV show and media presence to engage and educate people who care and have potential to work toward making the changes that are needed in the world.