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.

Presenting Aquaponix! (our home aquaponics system)

During the summer, I attended Montréal’s Urban Agriculture School held at UQAM. During a week, I had the chance to participate in workshops, visit urban farms and meet fun and inspiring people.

On the last day of the week, we were presented with four different “house farms”. The teams had to come up with a concept to help urban people produce their own foods. Now, this is a great idea for so many reasons: making food accessible, encouraging people to eat more fresh vegetables and greens, having people think outside the box, and more. After listening to all four presentations, I have to say that I was sold to the idea. Among the four kitchen-farms, two of them were aquaponics systems (one named BioUnit, and the second, Yaku) and they were really inspiring.

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So, when I came back home, I shared the idea with my boyfriend, and he was intrigued and hooked. We worked on it for a couple of months and made our very own kitchen-farm!

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If you are observant, you will see that some of the plants are growing in clay pebbles (red) and other in small rocks (gray): invest in clay pebbles. They really make plants grow faster and healthier.

The most tedious part was to gather all the required material. We made a few trips to Ikea, home hardware stores and the Botanical Garden before we had the shelves, water pump, air pumps, tubing, clay beads and lights. Luckily, we already had an aquarium, so that reduced to costs a lot. We were also able to keep our parsley, strawberry, and thyme plants for our urban garden patch.

We also added some timers so that the lighting and watering would be automatic. The lights come on in the morning, and turn themselves off after 14 hours. As to the water, it circulates 10 minutes every 90 minutes. We have nothing to do! This is perfect for the lazy gardener (you do have to feed the fish however!).

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The idea behind any aquaponics system is to have plants live on water-dissolved nutrients. However, unlike hydroponics systems where you have to keep adding nutrients to the water in liquid form that you buy, an aquaponics systems counts on fish poo to feed the plants.

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The Five Poopers and their haunted castle!

The tricky part is to find a balance between what the plants’ needs and what the system can filter: as the water is “dirtied” by fish dejection, it is circulated through pumps to the plant baskets. The plants clean the water by absorbing the fish waste as their food. Finally, the water comes back into the aquarium by gravity. It is therefore important to make sure that the number of fish is not too high for what the plants can clean to avoid having them live in a toxic environment. To make sure that this was not the case, we bought a water testing kit. So far, our five fish have lived in a perfectly balanced environment and are quite lively.

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For the last few months, we have had success with leafy greens and herbs. We are being adventurous now and trying out some tomato plants. We also have had some success with edamame beans, but our 3 plants produced 3 bean pods. Not the best outcome!

However, the best thing about this is that we can enjoy fresh greens and witness their growth from seeds, in the dead of winter (which also makes it difficult to harvest…). We are still working on this: we would like to grow our own fish food to avoid relying on store-bought fish food, but we are still figuring this out. We also like to experiment with different seeds and plants to see what works best.

Let us know if you have such a system at home and what you think of it! Also feel free to ask any questions, and I’ll try to answer them!