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.

EditedDSC00484

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.

EditedDSC00485

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 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.

gggg

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.

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

phot.jpg

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

13308139_10204929197189582_8219243911303944963_o

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.

 

The Plastic Tide Citizen Science Project

I’d like to bring a really important citizen science project to your attention today. As you may know, I am very passionate about plastics in the ocean and it is often a huge source of emotional stress when I begin to think about it.

That being said, I often feel like I should be doing more than I am doing to help save the planet because we are running out of time. Being in school and sitting at my desk in my small office everyday,  I find it hard to take the strong activist position that I would like to. So when I came across The Plastic Tide’s project, I got very excited because I finally feel like I am making a tiny impact and helping in some small way, which is extremely important.

The Plastic Tide has created an algorithm that works to identify plastics on coastlines with the goal of determining exactly how much plastics and other man-made debris are actually there. They are seeking people who will examine high-resolution photos of beaches and flag the plastic debris that appears in the photos. This will thus, teach the algorithm how to identify plastic debris, so that it can be used at a more broad scale. It is purely a citizen science effort, which is even more special, as it gives so many people, like me, the opportunity to participate in something they care deeply about, even if it is in just some small way.

Of course, it is not a project that works to solve systemic issues with the creation of plastic debris, however, the quantification aspect is something very important because I believe there is a lot of strength that can come from numbers.

I believe that projects like these are very important in raising awareness and encouraging participation of the people. If people can understand it, they can care about it and fight for the change that the world needs because ultimately, politicians do not enact the needed change, passionate people do.

If you wish to participate in the project, you can do so through their website (link above) or through Zooniverse (as I did). Zooniverse is a platform for all kinds of citizen science projects, so you can explore it and find other projects that mean something to you.

Photos of the Week (December 26th)

Tropique Nord 2017 (Montréal).

I am sorry for the late post! I wish you all a very happy holiday.