Featurepreneur: The Giving Vegetable

Featurepreneur: The Giving Vegetable
Genevieve Allen Hearn

The luffa gourd is native to the Asian tropics, but for three years now, Cindy Lou Oulton has managed to keep her plants prospering inside a garden tunnel on the grounds of TapRoot Farm in Port Williams. After harvesting, drying, and peeling the luffa, it is then sold as a bath sponge or dish scrubber. As far as she knows, she is the only one selling commercially-grown luffas in Canada. We wanted to know more about this versatile vegetable crop!

The Grapevine (GV): For those readers who don’t know about luffa, tell us about how it works, and the benefits of using it.

Cindy Lou Oulton (CO): Luffa is a gourd (a member of the squash family) that is grown for its fibre. This fibre is known to be beneficial on your skin, by increasing blood circulation, cleaning your pores, and leaving your skin feeling refreshed! Placed in warm water, the natural fibres begin to take on water, becoming satiny soft. You can enjoy your bathing with no micro-plastics going down your drain. Luffa is also a multipurpose scrubber in the kitchen, nick-named the “dish-cloth gourd”. Cut flat for convenience, the luffa is safe to use on all your no-scratch cookware. Your luffa is easily cleaned: food bits fall out readily when rinsed under running water, then it is stood or hung to dry and ready to reuse.

GV: You claim to be the only commercially-grown luffa. What does this mean?

CO: I am the only commercial grower in Canada that I know of, but there are many people who grow or have grown luffa in their back yard. Several people I’ve met have shared that they grew up eating and using luffa daily. I love these stories. Most recently I met people from Tatamagouche who grew substantial crops until they lost their high tunnel to Hurricane Arthur in 2014. I think of a commercial grower as someone who has decided to make farming their career. Referring to myself as a commercial grower, I assume a sizable crop and full time business, where luffa is my livelihood.

GV: Environmental sustainability seems to be a driving force behind your product. Tell us a bit about your founding principles.

CO: Yes, environmental sustainability is a driving force for me. The fact that, for the consumer, this daily-use product is in no way a compromise when it comes to being healthy for our environment, is fulfilling for me. The luffa gourd is an annual, so can be grown afresh year after year, which shows its sustainability properties. It can be used again and again with no micro-plastics going down your drain and at the end of its usefulness it is completely compostable.

GV: What has the process of starting your own business been like? Any advice for future entrepreneurs?

CO: Starting a business has certainly been an interesting and challenging adventure on its own. I’ve been fortunate to be introduced to people and organizations that are there to assist. Valley REN (Regional Enterprise Network), Acadia Entrepreneurship Center, as well as FarmWorks Investment Co-op – these folks have much to offer in terms of business development. At the end of the day, viability of the business is the goal.

You can find Annapolis Valley Luffa products at My Mother’s Keeper in Windsor, EOS Natural Foods in Wolfville, Gaspereau Valley Fibres in Gaspereau, Noggins Corner Farm Market in Greenwich, Henny Pennys Farm Market in New Minas, Hairitage House Salon in Middleton, and many other locations around the province. Visit cloulton.wixsite.com/annapolisvalleyluffa for more information.