Coming to a Rooftop Near You
Right on his rooftop, Max Meighen harvests the crops needed for his restaurant and brewery, Avling. His rooftop garden is over 4,000 square feet. There, he harvests crops like tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers to be used in the dishes prepared in Avling’s kitchen.
Owning a farm-to-table restaurant is Max’s way of contributing to a circular economy. Avling often hosts events on its rooftop garden. They teach people how they can practice better eating habits and live more sustainably. According to Statistics Canada, in 2021 there has been a decline in the total number of farms in Ontario. The good news is the total number of farms using renewable energy and sustainable practices has gone up by 63%.
In 2022, it is estimated that one-third of all food produced on the planet is wasted. Food waste exacerbates the climate change crisis. When food ends up in a landfill, it creates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) that experts say is more potent than carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the air and influence climate change. According to School Food Gardens, food waste contributes to 56.5 million tonnes of GHG emissions that Canada releases every year.
Restaurants like Avling, through their farm-to-table practices, help in the fight against climate change and even improve nutrition, one plate at a time.
From Grass to Grace
Max Meighen has gone from taking history classes in university to owning his own restaurant and brewery just a few years later. He’s living proof dreams do come true with hard work and dedication.
Food has always been an integral part of his life. For as long as he can remember, Max has dreamt of owning his own restaurant. He’s been grooming himself for success. No job is too small, and he's had a lot of them, starting at the grassroots level in food service in Toronto, Montreal and even London, England.
He’s learnt customer service skills by working as a waiter and then moved to the kitchen, where he honed his skills as a chef.
In Europe, head chefs and sous-chefs are known for their creativity and drive to always think outside the box. London is renowned for having some of the most innovative and quirky chefs in the world. From Heston Blumenthal, who serves meat in the guise of fruit and makes lick-able wallpaper, to Gordon Ramsey, who cooks for some of the biggest names in media.
A certain book has been the final push Max needed to start his own rooftop garden and restaurant. It continues to inspire him to contribute to a more sustainable economy and way of life.
Not All Roofs Are Created Equally
According to the University of Toronto’s Architecture department, there are over 700 green roofs in the city. Most of these are covered in either grass or a type of succulent called sedum.
A green roof covered in grass requires a deep growing medium. This increases the weight of roof and the structural requirements to support it.
In comparison, sedums require a shallow medium, typically a mix of organic material, crushed brick and minerals like sand and shale, according to experts in the field. Sedum plants are durable, drought tolerant and help improve water drainage and cooling of the building.
Elise Shelley, the Director of the Master of Architecture program at the U of T explains how not all roofs are built the same. She designs green roofs that have horticultural value and ensure biodiversity. Her creations provide safe and effective roofs.
From Seneca to Artevelde
Let’s head to Belgium to see how local initiatives, an ocean apart, are contributing to a global circular economy by designing out waste, repurposing or regenerating.
A Sustainable Corner in The City
In midst of honking cars and students running to class, there is Lokaal. An organic and plant-based restaurant that only uses local grown crops located in the heart of the Ghent. Arno De Mol is the owner of Lokaal. He started out waiting tables and has now developed a restaurant that only uses crops they harvest themselves.
The harvest comes from a local community farm. A farm they started to make sure their vegetables and fruit are all locally grown. A community farm is a field maintained by local farmers but harvested by their shareholders. Arno thinks it’s important for restaurant owners to harvest vegetables themselves in order to have a connection with the vegetables. He says seeing how they grow is something every person who cooks a lot should do.
At first Lokaal was a vegetarian restaurant. They used eggs from the community farm to make food. Two years after Arno opened Lokaal they discovered that the farm chickens didn’t lay any eggs in winter. The alternative for this was to buy organic eggs, but Lokaal decided to instead go completely vegan and search for plant-based alternatives.
The main objective for Lokaal is to take care of their community and animals around them. Arno and his co-workers want to create a place where you can be sure no animals are suffering. That is why Lokaal is a plant-based and organic restaurant.
Thankfully, the word vegan does not have the same negative connotation it had years ago, so Lokaal carries the title of vegan restaurant proudly.
From Dream to Hero
A love for action movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and the urge to become a hero of his own is what has inspired Arno De Mol to start Lokaal. A name that directly translates to ‘local’, giving away the restaurants goal. A plant-based organic restaurant that only uses local products.
When he was a kid, Arno, loved watching action movies, but as he grew older, he has since then realized that the dream of becoming the people’s hero would be harder to achieve in real life. His journey to opening Lokaal began eight years ago. Working in restaurants and cafés have taught him what it is like to own a restaurant but serving food and cleaning tables didn’t satisfy the urge to be a hero.
He was working on an organic farm one summer, when the idea came to start working within the sustainable and organic agriculture market. Nowadays people are a lot more aware of the importance of local and organically grown food. Back when Arno started, it was only the beginning of the sustainable movement.
Lokaal continues to grow with the sustainable movement. In the last eight years a lot has changed when it comes to plant-based products, which means the restaurant has had to adapt to those changes. Recently, Arno and his co-workers have been experimenting with fermenting food. The restaurant is surrounded by jars, all labelled with what’s inside. Fermenting takes time and this way returning costumers can see the process happening with their own eyes.
The restaurant isn’t only a restaurant. They sell also locally made food, their own products as well as products provided by other small businesses within their community. Of course, everything is plant-based and organic. This way, costumers get the opportunity to take a small portion of Lokaal home with them.
Organic is Still Hard to Find
Arno De Mol, one of the owners of Lokaal Ghent explains in this podcast how he pursued his dream with this restaurant. He talks about the farm where they harvest their vegetables and how he loves the concept of organic and cruelty-free food.
Organic restaurants are still very rare in Belgium. It’s hard to fully commit to a vegan and pesticide-free menu. A lot of vegan places suffered from the COVID crisis and high energy costs and many of them even went bankrupt. Luckily, Lokaal Ghent managed their way through.
You can also hear Evi, an expert in nutrition and creator of masterclasses, explaining why organic food is so important for our bodies and future. Enjoy this podcast about an organic restaurant in the middle of the city of Ghent.
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