Lufa Farms: Merging the Farm and the City

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When Mohamed Hage first expressed his enthusiasm about his work—building greenhouses and feeding people in the heart of Montreal—to his aunt living in Lebanon, she was confused. “We’ve been doing this all of our lives,” she told him. After all, Hage had grown up in a self-sustaining village in Lebanon. Montreal, however, was quite different.

In a 2012 Ted Talks speech, Hage (the founding president of Lufa Farms) remarked, “We’re not eating what I used to eat back when I grew up in Lebanon. What we eat today—because we live in cities—comes from very far away.” He added: “Our food has traveled an average of 1,500 miles to make it to our plate, and food travels as good as a three-year-old child on a plane . . . by the time it makes it to the consumer, it’s lost its nutrients; it’s lost its taste, texture, and smells.” Industrial farming’s top priority is that a crop is tough, transportable, and has a large yield. When these are the primary factors for crop selection, Hage says, one crucial quality is liable to be overlooked: taste.

In 2007, an idea for creating a new type of farm was germinating in Hage’s brain. “I said to myself, ‘What if you could change the way we grow food? What if you can grow food in a more responsible way, and what if you can create a direct link to the consumer?’” With the help of a group of engineers and architects, he followed through on his idea with tremendous success.

Before building the rooftop greenhouse in September of 2010, Hage and his team needed to define ‘responsible agriculture’ so that they agreed upon exactly what they hoped to achieve. They identified four components essential to their definition of ‘responsible agriculture’: Using new land; using water in a more responsible way; using no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides; and growing good food. By the time the construction process of Lufa Farms had concluded in February of 2011, Hage and his team had accomplished all of these goals.

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By constructing their greenhouse on a building’s rooftop, Hage and his team utilized a space that is typically ignored. Moreover, rooftops are optimal locations for greenhouses, given that the sun’s energy and the heat energy from the building below reduce energy-expenditure costs. Lufa Farms’ specific location on the rooftop of a city building turned out to be beneficial as well because plants can feed off of the higher carbon dioxide levels typical of cities. Hage and his team accomplished their goal of using water in a more responsible way by developing their own, closed-loop water circulation systems. Lufa Farms bypassed the need for pesticides and potentially harmful chemicals by introducing good insects into the greenhouse, namely ladybugs, that attack plant-devouring insects such as aphids and white flies. Lastly, they accomplished their goal of growing good food by selecting crop varieties for their taste, nutrition, smell, and texture—not for their toughness or transportability.

In his final remarks during his Ted Talks speech, Hage stated: “Today . . . we feed 2,000 people with vegetables that are harvested the same day that have never seen the inside of a fridge: vegetables harvested in the heart of the city, on a rooftop, using half the energy to heat the building and a fraction of the water and nutrients [normally used in commercial agriculture]. Because of the direct link with our consumers, we distribute our food to drop points.” He asked the audience to imagine communities connected by farms, and he himself has made that spectacular accomplishment through his founding of Lufa Farms—through the merging of the farm and the city.

To visit the Lufa Farms website, click here.

To read The Montreal Gazette’s article on Lufa Farms, click here.

To listen to Mohamed Hage’s Ted Talks speech, click here.

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About jensera

Jennifer Harrington is a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer. She illustrated the best-selling children’s book series 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' which includes the titles 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' 'The Night Before a Canadian Christmas' and 'Canadian Jingle Bells.' She is also the owner of JSH Graphics, a boutique graphic design agency that specializes in print and web advertising. With her latest project, Eco Books 4 Kids, Jennifer has partnered with illustrator Michael Arnott to create a series of ecologically-themed ebooks for children. Her next book, 'Spirit Bear,' is due for release in the Summer of 2013. Jennifer offers two different school presentations for her 'Moose in a Maple Tree' collection, an illustration demonstration and a Christmas concert series, which can be booked at www.amooseinamapletree.com. She will be taking bookings for school readings of 'Spirit Bear' beginning in October 2013.

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