Urban Agriculture Summer School

Last week, I had the chance to participate to ‘L’école d’été d’agriculture urbaine‘ that is organized every year by the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the most rebellious of Montreal’s universities. If you are interested in gardening, changing the world, growing your own mushrooms, or taking care of bees, this week is perfect for you. For an entire week, you are visiting urban farms, listening to passionate guest speakers, and participate in some really fun and interesting workshops. Just to give you an idea of what my week was, here is a glimpse at my favourite activities from last week’s urban agriculture school.

  1. Favourite visit: The Hospitalières’ Garden Tour: I really enjoyed visiting the nun’s gardens that are situated behind the Hôtel-Dieum hospital in Montreal because it has had such an important role in the city’s history. I was really surprised to see how involved and dynamic this community of cloistered nun was. It was also great to stumble upon such a big garden right in the middle of really busy neighbourhoods. It was particularly interesting to learn that the nuns used to have a big medicinal plant patch and used the gardens as part of their patients’ therapy. How very modern! urban-agricultureurban-agriculture2urban-agriculture3
  2. Favourite workshop: Mycelium propagation by Champignons Maison: I loved how Geoffroy Renaud was so enthusiastic and passionate about mycelium and mushrooms! It was really inspiring to listen to him explaining how to take care of mycelium because he does not have a formal training in biology or agriculture. Now, this may seem weird, but it really was encouraging to meet someone who has built an entire successful business and created his job by being passionate and persistent. He also had a more relaxed approach to growing mushrooms which made everyone in the workshop just want to start right away. urban-agriculture4
  3. Favourite guest speaker: Serge Mongeau: Writer and simple living advocate, Serge Mongeau’s closing speech was very inspirational and reassuring. He talked about the necessity of changing our perspective on our consumption of goods. He supports the idea that by really thinking about what makes us happy and fulfilled, we can identify our real needs and adjust our relationship to money and work in consequence. This particular speech touched a delicate string in my heart because I have lived through two really intense years work-wise, and I feel like I’m a little off-balanced and disconnected. Hearing the particular guest speaker gave my ideas and inspiration.
  4. Unexpected fascinating workshop: Beekeeping 101: I really didn’t think I would find bees so fascinating! It was incredible to learn about how they live and work. I still don’t know if I’m completely comfortable with the way we use bees in modern farming, but it was really interesting to learn more about these hard workers.

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Of course this is just a glimpse of all the acitivities and learning that took place along the week. If you are in the Montreal area, and speak French, I would really recommend checking it out for next year because it is such a dense, inspiring and enjoyable week.  Cheers!

 

 

Floramama and beautiful organic flowers

In my ideal world, my house would be filled with flowers all year long, in every room, multiple bouquets per room, in all colors, all the time and for no particular reason but to enjoy them. Flowers are so wonderful in their variety and simple elegance. I feel that adding flowers to any room suddenly makes everything more fun and lively. However, even if all flowers are beautiful, they are not equal when it comes to their environmental footprint. Think of it a minute. Flowers are plants, cultivated in fields and are therefore treated in ways similar to ‘regular’ agriculture and all that implies. That’s why I try to buy local and organic flowers when I can. And, luckily enough Floramama is here to save the day!

Floramama is a flower farm in the Eastern Townships that has been created a few years ago by Chloé, a passionate young farmer. Since then, she has put a lot of time and energy into producing exceptional fresh flowers. I have a particular soft spot for her ranunculus and anemones.

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She too brings her flowers to the Laurier Farmers Market every week. Check out her facebook page to see when she’s coming and also have an idea of the flowers that will be ready for the market. I love her flowers because they have a simple charm to them: I don’t know if it’s because they are not your typical flowers or if it’s because they are so fresh, but they make me feel shabby chic just looking at them. They also keep a lot longer than most flowers you can find at your florist.

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If you fall in love with these beauties, Chloé offers a ‘basket’ option where you get to support her farm through a CSA kind off system: you can subscribe to receive bouquets every week or every two weeks. I did this last summer and loved it: fresh, beautifully composed flowers every week! What a dream!

I really suggest checking her out if you are in the Montreal region, or if you love flowers! Even if it’s just to take a look at her wonderfully colourful market stand, you won’t be disappointed. And, as you will probably succumb to the temptation and buy a few flowers, take a minute to thank Chloe for her amazing work. It’s so inspiring!

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Tour: Lufa Farms

Last Saturday, Montreal was under a really cold spell. It was freezing enough that when you went outside, your nose hair (yes, we are at this point in our relationship) froze up!

It was the perfect day to go visit the Lufa Farms, and be reminded that someday, the sun would be back and that we would be able to garden again.

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Cute basil!

In the meantime, it was great to visit these urban farms. They use hydroponics on a large scale and grow different vegetables, herbs and greens that are sold in the Montreal area in the form of subscription baskets.

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Gorgeous cucumbers

What makes these baskets different from other forms of CSA baskets, is that the member can choose the contents of his or her basket online. This makes for a more flexible basket that will really meet your needs, but also reduces waste as they only harvest what has been bought. Clever!

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CEO and founder, Mohamed Hage giving us information on his greenhouses.

The tour was given by Mohamed Hage, the young and dynamic CEO and founder of the Lufa Farms. I thought is was pretty nice of him to directly give the tours, as I imagine his schedule to be quite busy. Meeting him was great, but it also made us a little jealous as the greenhouse we got to see was quite amazing and impressive.

This farm uses hydroponics systems and grows on coconut fiber as it is a neutral growth medium.

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Water from the rooftop is recuperated and conditioned on the spot to provide with clean and readily available hydration for all these lovely plants. I thought this was quite clever too as it really takes advantage of the accessible resources.

A lot of greens are cultivated, but not only. As you have seen, cucumbers and bell peppers are also produced. If you have been following the narrative carefully, you will now ask yourself the following question: how are fruits produced in the dead of winter when no insect is there to pollinate? Glad you asked.

A little army of bees are normally installed on the rooftops during the summer. During the winter, bumblebees are used instead and live in these little yellow boxes. They are not the only insects populating the Lufa oasis. Indeed, the farms use biocontrol in the form of various insects (ladybug, anyone?) to hunt and protect the precious produce from pest.

If you were wondering, the distribution center is in the same building. In fact, night workers harvest and build the baskets that are then scattered around the city. This means that the produce is harvested in the morning, delivered and available to eat on the same day. Wow!

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So, is this all worth it? Well, it is undeniable that the farm is impressive, the system well organized and the produce amazingly fresh. It is also a great way to eat locally all year round. We had tried one Lufa basket a few years back, but thought that even though the quality of the produce was quite extraordinary, the price-quantity ratio was to our disadvantage. As vegans, the quantity of fresh produce we consume is not supported through these baskets. However, it is such a well organized farm, with astounding principles and practices that it is worth giving it a try.

Let us know if you have a CSA basket or if you tried Lufa’s.