Fiddle music key to producing local loofahs, says N.S. grower
Natural sponge alternative usually found in semitropical climates now being commercially grown in Nova Scotia
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.