The tiffinwallahs of Mumbai

Some very contemporary tiffin boxes have just been delivered to Galerie CO. We’re happy to have them in time for the good weather; think picnics!

GT Joules tiffin box

tiffin box by Garden Trading, available at

For those who don’t know, a traditional tiffin is a tin container consisting of a number of bowls, each containing a separate dish, held together in a frame, made famous by the amazing tiffin men (tiffinwallahs or dabbawalas) who deliver them in Mumbai, India.

tiffin on head

Source: Aija-Rahi/AP via

Mumbai, the business capital of India, is one of the largest, most sophisticated cities in the world. Ironically, in the midst of the progress and modernization the business people of Mumbai continue to cherish and respect a thoroughly traditional and low-tech service provided by the city’s tiffin men who deliver their lunchtime meal to them from home.

Every day around 5,000 tiffin men deliver up to 200,000 home-cooked lunches (tiffins) from suburban communities directly to commuters in the offices of Mumbai. This extraordinary service started in 1890 when there were few restaurants around the city and people tended to be suspicious of food offered outside the home. But it has continued despite the explosion of restaurants onto the food scene in Mumbai.

tiffin time

photo: Satyaki Ghosh via letz trend

Each morning the tiffin men stop by the homes of their clients (who have already commuted into Mumbai) to pick up their lunch boxes, or tiffins. The tiffins will typically be filled with a home-made lunch of rice, dal, vegetables, and roti packed into the separate sections. They are frequently packed into insulated bags and taken by train from the suburbs to a central station in Mumbai where they are organized according to street address and floor. The 100-kilogram crates of tiffins are then dispatched for delivery at lunchtime on tiffin men’s heads, hand-pulled wagons or bicycles.



After lunch the process is reversed and the tiffins are collected and delivered back to suburban homes before the commuter returns home from work.

The exercise involves a fine balance between chaos and precision, evident in this video portraying a day in the life of a Mumbai tiffinwallah.

There are no computers behind the tiffin-delivery system. There is no paper trail. In fact, most tiffin men are illiterate. On every tiffin there are simply four codes indicating where the tiffin came from, where it needs to go, and railway stations for delivery and pick up. The sturdy tiffins are re-used day in and day out, eliminating the waste associated with take-out and delivery food.

tiffin on bike (1)


Despite the low-tech system, the accuracy with which the tiffin men deliver their lunches is astonishing. Theirs is one of the most efficient supply chains in the world; they only make one mistake in every 8 million deliveries. One such error inspired a film entitled, in hindi, “Dabba” (translated as “The Lunchbox”), which tells the story of the people affected by the mistaken delivery of a tiffin. You can still catch the film (Indian with English subtitles) in several Canadian cities including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

The service provided by the tiffin men is highly valued and they command enormous respect. In the midst of change in a rapidly developing part of the world some values hold true; in this case the traditional preference of the people of Mumbai for a home-cooked meal.

What would you put in your tiffin box? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter. We love to hear from you!

Earth Day – urban agriculture in Montreal

Today is Earth Day and in Canada, in 2014, the theme is sustainable cities.

There are several ways that cities can work towards sustainability. These include: investing in adequate green space, responsible community design, “green” buildings and energy efficiency, public transportation, cycling infrastructure, reliable waste and water treatment, effective recycling programs and ensuring access to healthy food.

We’re interested in all of these issues, but right now it’s Spring and access to healthy food is front and centre. Local asparagus will soon be available, followed by strawberries and more, signalling the start of the early harvest. We can, if we wish, become “locavores” for a few precious months in the Northern hemisphere when we can choose to eat locally grown food that’s in season.

Quebec strawberriesQuebec strawberries, source: food and foto

For much of the rest of the year, despite the fact that we have unparalleled access to an abundance of exotic foods, we’re geographically disconnected from our food supply. This means that much of our produce travels hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the farm to our tables.

Montreal’s Lufa Farms is working to reverse this. It’s a farm located on the roof of a building in an industrial park, which provides access to fresh vegetables all year round through innovative agricultural production in the heart of the city.

lufa farms - aerialAerial view of Lufa Farms, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Started in 2011, Lufa Farms was the first urban rooftop commercial agricultural production in the world. By 2012, it was feeding 2,000 people, using half the energy, water and nutrients of traditional agriculture. And that was just the beginning. We want to share its story to mark Earth Day and celebrate Lufa Farms’ contribution to making Montreal a more sustainable city.

8904340397_bdbc5a3169_bLufa Farms cherry tomatoes, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Mohammed Hage is the founder and president of Lufa Farms. His family is from a small town in Lebanon that is completely food self-sufficient, begging the question whether local urban food production is a new and innovative phenomenon. Hage acknowledges that modern urban agriculture is a re-creation of something very old, but he explains that the innovation comes from the fact that it is occurring in, around, and above ‘concrete jungles.’

This meeting of the old and the new is reflected in the hydroponic production process employed at Lufa Farms, which relies on a finely tuned balance between ancient techniques and state-of-the-art technology. For example, the greenhouses are pesticide- and fungicide-free relying on a pest management system that utilizes other insects; bees are used to pollinate and ladybugs to control the aphid and white fly populations. And no chemical fertilizers are used; green waste is composted to feed the plants.

Yet, in conjunction with these low-tech approaches high-tech technologies are employed.  Lufa Farms relies on solar energy and cutting-edge micro-climate management software, which captures energy efficiencies and carefully controls temperature and humidity levels throughout the greenhouse encouraging maximum yields for each crop. And a sophisticated closed-loop water system harvests rainwater and re-circulates the run-off from the plants.

bokchoyBok choy and Lufa’s hydroponic growing system, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Lufa Farms operates on a subscription basis, which is a great way for farmers to reduce crop waste because only the product that has been ordered is harvested. Customers sign up for a weekly box of food that can be customized up until midnight the night before the harvesting, picking and packing. The food is then delivered to one of several pickup points across the city, where it is collected by the customer.

lufa farms - pick and packPacking food boxes, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Hydroponic production is not eligible for organic certification in Canada, which is ironic in this case, considering the many economic, environmental and social benefits of this model of urban farming.

Healthy food. The produce is safe, uncontaminated by residues from chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In fact, some local produce (broccoli, green beans, kale, red peppers and tomatoes) may even have a higher nutrient value when it’s given more time to ripen, due to the shorter time between harvest and consumption. The produce is picked at their peak of ripeness and is in the hands of customers within 24 hours. The short turnover means it will tend to taste better, encouraging us all to eat more veggies! In fact, when farming locally, farmers can choose to plant cultivars for taste, rather than for transportability, so that the most flavourful varieties (rather than the hardiest varieties) are grown.

eggplantA perfect eggplant, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Environmental benefits. The environmental benefits from a hugely reduced carbon footprint as a result of drastic reductions in transportation, and energy efficiency in the greenhouse, are significant in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the plants themselves remove carbon dioxide from the air, doing their bit in the battle against climate change. Efficiencies in water use and capturing run-off conserve and protect water resources, and promoting the cultivation of non-hybrid heirloom varieties helps protect the planet’s genetic diversity for future generations.

Food security. In a time of urbanization this type of local urban agriculture contributes to feeding increasing numbers of city dwellers and to ensuring a secure and sustainable food supply.


source: Lufa Farms via

Strengthening communities. Drop-off points in communities encourage exchanges of ideas, recipes, and even produce. And when the people who produce your food, live and work in your community, you, your children and your neighbours know a lot more about that food.

Supporting the local economy. Money that is spent with local farmers stays close to home and is typically used to provide employment to local people and is reinvested in businesses and services in the community.

All of this helps explain why projects like Lufa Farms are so important in an effort to build sustainable cities.

“Forty years ago, prior to the construction of the industrial building, there used to be a farm and a farmer used to work here, feeding people. For thirty seven years that spot was replaced by an industrial building that contributed to heat islands and displaced the farmer. The good news is that this spot is, once again, a fertile plot of land employing many and feeding many, many, more and helping make our world become a better place. So, imagine cities that feed their own inhabitants. Imagine communities that are connected by farms. Imagine knowing your farmer and knowing your food.” (How rooftop farming will change how we eat, Mohamed Hage TEDxUdeM)

heirloom tomato

A perfect tomato, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Lufa Farms has formed partnerships with other local food companies with similar values and offers an online marketplace where customers can shop for most of their groceries. This model has been such a big hit with Montrealers that a second greenhouse has been built to keep up with local demand and further expansion is in the pipeline.

Happy Earth Day everyone!


Do you have an experience with urban agriculture? How are you recognizing Earth Day? We’d love to hear from you. You can comment below, tweet us @GalerieCO or leave us a message on our Facebook page.


Sustainability — the ability to last or continue for a long time or the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level — is a word that often relies on its context for clarity of definition. The concept of sustainability as it relates to human development first appeared in 1987 in the idea of “sustainable development” as follows:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

—World Commission on Environment and Development’s
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives–or needs–when making decisions today. For example, at a broad level, industrial growth might conflict with preserving natural resources. Yet, in the long term, a balanced approach that advocates the responsible use of natural resources now will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth far into the future.

sustainability and CO

As applied to policy making, sustainability requires us to question what are the needs of the present? How do we decide whose needs are met? What happens when needs conflict? When there has to be a trade off, whose needs should go first? What gets prioritized?

The decision with respect to which “needs” are most vital and should weigh most heavily in the balance is a subjective exercise and depends critically on immediate hardships, challenges, value structures and expectations. If you did not have access to safe water, and therefore needed wood to boil drinking water so that you and your children would not get sick, would you worry about causing deforestation? Difficulties notwithstanding, the balancing of objectives is vital in the short term – by individuals, communities, cities, countries and groups of countries – if we expect to sustain our development in the long term.

We recently asked our Facebook friends and our Twitter followers what sustainability meant to them in the context of design.

Consistent with the breadth of the concept of sustainability, we got a diverse set of responses. So we built a word cloud around the definitions where the larger the word, the more frequently it was used in a response. Within the diversity, the similarities stand out: “environment”, ‘materials”, “beautiful”, “creating” and “long-lasting”.

The words in the cloud touch on the many facets of sustainability and those used most frequently are consistent with the values in a society with a robust social safety net, access to services, relatively low levels of gender inequality, and where our basic needs are met in terms of subsistence, education and health. And importantly it reflects not only the importance of the responsible use of resources, but also the idea that design can be a driver of sustainability through original ideas and innovation.

The construct of a sustainable balancing act exists.  #COclientsarethebest!

sustainable design word cloud

Designer In-Depth: Maude Eloïse Bouchard Furness


Galerie CO owner and founder, Sarah Richardson, and her social media manager, Lee-Anne Bigwood, had a chance to sit down with Maude Eloïse Bouchard Furness just before Christmas to have a chat. They started to plan their trip to Toronto for the Interior Design Show (IDS14) and discussed the origins, inspirations and processes of Maude’s design work that will be exhibited at Studio North.

From rifling through the sewing box at her grandmother’s house in Northern Quebec to inventing new ways to use scrap pieces she finds on her Montreal studio floor, Maude has always maximized her resources and minimized waste. She has taken this natural tendency, infused it with her creative energy and her passion for her home province  to produce a sleek, fresh, distinctive collection of contemporary furniture. Remarkably, she accomplishes all this using sustainable methods at every stage of the process.

Maude’s pride in her creations is evident and infectious.  

Galerie CO: Can you remember how or why you first started to create?

Maude: When I was little I started with my grandmother to make little puppets out of balls of wool. We would use old clothes, sweaters and other materials to make the dolls and their dresses. It was more than that though. My mother worked, so I was with my grandmother a lot.  We were in a big house in the country. When we weren’t playing outside, she would really encourage us to create. There was a big sewing box full of supplies for us to use.  We’d trace images onto paper with glue, and stick pieces of wool to make art pieces.

Galerie CO: How did that creation develop into furniture design? Continue reading