Fiddle music key to producing local loofahs, says N.S. grower

The gourd is usually found in semitropical climates, but it's now being grown commercially in Nova Scotia.

Natural sponge alternative usually found in semitropical climates now being commercially grown in Nova Scotia

Cindy Lou Oulton shows off one of her dried loofahs. She says she first became interested in loofahs after hearing they could be used to clean up oil spills. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Cindy Lou Oulton walks through a jungle of vines. Hanging from them are giant, cucumber-like gourds the size of your head.

These are loofahs.

The plant is usually found in semitropical environments, but Oulton is now in her second year of growing them here in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, at TapRoot Farms in Port Williams.

"Here's a nice big one here!" Oulton exclaims, as she reaches under one of the vines to pull out the green gourd the size of a baseball bat.

Cindy Lou Oulton shows off her loofah plant next to the finished product. The outer shell of the plant is removed, revealing a spongy inside that is then dried. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

This is believed to be the first location in Canada where loofah is being commercially grown. 

Loofah is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional sponges, and Oulton says it can be used for just about anything.

"They're very good for your skin. They increase blood circulation, clean your pores and refresh your skin."

Loofahs are normally grown in southeast Asia. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Oulton says they work great in the kitchen for washing dishes and scrubbing pots.

"You can use them on your car, your boat. They don't scratch."

They can also be used to make clothing and are great in a stir-fry, Oulton says.

"It tastes kind of like zucchini but more crunchy."

From oilsands to eco-business

Oulton says she first became interested in loofah while she was working in Alberta's oil and gas industry.

"One day I read an oil and gas magazine that had an article about how they used loofah sponge to clean up the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That's what got me hooked."

In 2015, she was part of major layoffs. She decided to move back to Nova Scotia and follow her dream of starting her own business growing and selling loofah.

"I've always been a grower and I've always been an environmentalist."

Annapolis Valley Luffa is now being sold at 20 stores in the area. (Submitted by Cindy Lou Oulton)

She says she feels extra proud to be growing the loofah locally.

"Normally we import them. The global market comes out of China. To be able to grow them here has been really advantageous."

She says many people are surprised to find out what loofah is — and that it can be grown here.

"People are flabbergasted," she laughs.

Fiddle music key to processing loofah

So how do you go about growing a loofah in Nova Scotia?

Oulton will spend 80 hours a week this summer tending to her crop of 2,000 loofahs, which she grows from seed.

Come this fall, she'll pick the loofahs and crack each one open to reveal the insides, washing them out with water, which Oulton says requires some serious "flinging" back and forth.

"Fiddle music is good to go with it," she says.

Harvesting of the loofahs usually happens in October. (Submitted by Cindy Lou Oulton)

Once dry, the loofahs are cut up and sold at 20 stores throughout the Valley, including everywhere from the post office to a local ice cream shop.

But she says she hopes one day to take Annapolis Valley Luffa countrywide.

"I jumped off the loofah cliff into loofah land!" she says.

Oulton hopes to expand her business across Nova Scotia and eventually Canada. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

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About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg

Journalist

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Halifax. She previously worked for CBC Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von. stackelberg@cbc.ca