I have learned a great deal about the food industry over the last year. Over that time, I’ve taken a more proactive approach to cooking for myself following a moderate set of ethical guidelines that I’ve established in accordance to my new knowledge. There were some difficult moments and meals where I blankly ignored what I knew. The summer however has brought on a wealth of new flavors and ingredients that have provided me the means to easily follow a diet that is both more sustainable and healthier.
One issue I face during the year that affects my eating habits is the desire for diversity. In North America, with the annually available products from around the world in the grocery stores, this is not so hard to do. But doing so means sacrificing your appreciation for fresh ingredients. So often, you pick up a fruit or vegetable that has traveled (literally)thousands of miles to be there, was picked before being ripe and was grown on massive industrial farms where artificial fertilizers provided the necessary nutrients for their flavor profile… Fresh produce, in season, from locally sourced farms that practice sustainable agriculture taste vastly different from what we are used to seeing at the grocery store. Over the last weeks I’ve enjoyed a plethora of wonderful foods both colorful and nutritious that have helped me try new things in the kitchen. Much of that experimenting has been simple; fresh produce doesn’t need much work to taste good, and one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become creative again. I had gotten bored during the winter months and seemed to use produce redundantly, without any attempt at trying new things. Of course, the summer also provides a great deal more to work with.
Here are some dishes I quickly put together over the last 2 weeks that I enjoyed. You’ll find that there are reoccurring ingredients in these dishes… The fresh produce I’ve used the most recently has been green peas, broad beans, carrots, radishes, fresh leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes. Last weekend, at the Jean-Talon market, I learned that the corn season had just started…
Ladies and gentlemen, today I have something a little different for you. During December of last year, I became aware of a project taking place in Montreal that was being developed by LUFA farms. The company was in the midst of building the world’s largest urban commercial green house. Just north of the city’s downtown, they found an old building upon which they went about building a 31 000 sq feet green house that would start producing herbs and veggies in late March.
On Monday the 18th of April, I was invited by my friend Cai Rintoul, who first informed me about the project and who is now acting as a consultant for the company, to an information session with chefs and restaurateurs from around the city. We gathered at the green house and were given a tour of the premises, explained the functioning and the philosophy behind the project and LUFA farms, and were invited to taste some of the produce.
At the core of the project is a vision of responsible and environmentally friendly living. An urban greenhouse offers a number of advantages that our regular food system is unable to provide. First of all, LUFA’s goal is to distribute produce that is as fresh as possible. When fully functional, they will have baskets of their veggies and herbs distributed every day of the week to restaurants and to different pick up centers where regular customers who have subscribed to their service can get their weekly supplies. What’s more, when the distribution network will be properly organized, there will be zero waste of vegetables. A bonus of getting the daily fresh produce so fast to its customers is that they will be able to guarantee the highest possible nutrient value. Even in the best systems, rarely do we find produce that is less than 3 or 4 days old in our markets and grocery stores(if not much more…). LUFA provides a local and consistent source of fresh vegetables year round, whether its in the winter or summer.
The greenhouse is a complicated but very efficient and sustainable system for vegetable growth. The water used is filtered and re-used, the energy necessary is minimal and the system is highly productive. They eventually plan on using the bio matter(stocks, leaves and so on) of the plants to produce heat for future greenhouses. The air quality is filtered and no pesticides or chemicals are needed. A lot of its heat is produced by the plants themselves, and a well organized greenhouse can offer carefully controlled growth conditions that will maximize the efficiency of the plants therein. In the summer the plants will help cool the space and that of its surroundings. What’s more, the greenhouse is also a positive structure for the building on which it exists. The owner of that building will be saving a great deal in heating and cooling throughout the year.
LUFA’s vision is one of “a city of rooftop farms…“. Not the endeavour of a group of hippies, LUFA is also a company with an ambitious business model. It took a very large investment and 4 years of research and tests to develop the project. The risks are big but the rewards potentially much greater, and I believe that would be a good thing for society. Imagine the energy savings that would take place if we were to have most of our own produce grown within a city’s boundaries and picked fresh daily. While there are certainly restrictions as to what they can grow, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Greenhouses of the sort are also quite flexible; able to offer different produce to different communities while being able to change the production of certain products very rapidly. When I visited, the plants were less than 2 months old and were already producing. The eggplant for example was thriving and the tomatoes were as well. LUFA will also be able to tweak the flavors of its products.
After our information session we were presented with a variety of greens, herbs and tomatoes to try. Everything was freshly picked and very flavorful. Certain items, such as the coriander(cilantro) still need some work as it was rather bland, but the tomatoes were wonderfully sweet, the Persian arugula was bright and spicy, as was the watercress. The green peppers were crisp and flavorful and the eggplants were not bitter at all. As I walked out I marveled at the possibilities of such a project. This 31000 sq feet greenhouse will be able to serve baskets to about 2000 customers a week. LUFA is already thinking about a 100000 square feet space. If this works, eventually, they’ll be able to develop greenhouses following the subway networks of large cities and could become a great source of local and pesticide free produce for urbanites. When I think of the rapid rise of urban development in developing countries, that is when I become especially excited. I’ve seen and followed the changes that have and continue to take place in China for example. Things are happening unconsciously fast, and they will need to properly plan their development for sustainable living. LUFA farms offers an opportunity for environmentally progressive development and that’s really cool.