Growing Vegetables in Northern Canada

The author, Lisa Mancuso, is a 3rd year university student at Ryerson University, located in Toronto, Canada. She has been a team member of project Growing North since 2015. The project is operated by a team made up of founders Stefany Nieto and Ben Canning, along with Savreen Gosal, Christian D’Antonio, Erin Solmundson, Janhvi Johri, Maryum Idroos, and Samantha Villalon, all students at Ryerson University. Each member of the team has a strong dedication to the success of the project and has been inspired by the strong need for food security in Canada’s North.

Food prices in northern Canada are overwhelmingly high, as well as the rate of food insecurity. This is what our founders discovered during their needs assessment in Naujaat, Nunavut in 2013. Due to average temperatures of -30° Celsius, high wind speeds, and a lack of soil in the North, food cannot be grown, thus, the community must rely on inefficient and expensive methods of food importation.

Transporting goods to Canada’s North is a long and expensive process, causing the prices for fruits and vegetables to jump to up to 4x the Canadian average. For example, a bag of 10 apples can cost up to $15.99 CAD ($16.11 AUD).  Community members have expressed their concern for not being able to purchase nutritious food consistently due to the high cost, and the lack of availability during periods of severe weather conditions. As a result, both adults and children suffer from iron deficiency, heart disease, and diabetes.

 After realizing that fellow Canadians did not have access to fresh, nutritious food, Stefany Nieto and Benjamin Canning began researching various solutions for this issue in 2013. The result was a geodesic greenhouse dome that can withstand wind speeds of up to 180km/h and 7 feet of direct snow. This dome was built for the harsh climates of the North.

Building the greenhouse timelapse:

By utilizing a closed loop, vertical hydroponic system that allows us to maximize our yield per square foot, the dome can produce up to 26,000 lbs. (~11,800 kg) of fresh produce. Plants that can not grow in the hydroponic towers such as, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables, are planted in growing beds made of repurposed wood and tires. The greenhouse works using solar energy to heat itself 30°C warmer than external conditions during the summer. For the winter months, when the community experiences darkness for almost 24 hours, we will implement a CHP system that will heat the dome. The produce that is grown in the greenhouse will be then sold to the local grocer in Naujaat at a price reduction of up to 51%.

PGN1
Some peas grown in the closed-loop, vertical hydroponic system

In order to implement sustainability, and ensure that the greenhouse can operate all year round without our team having to be present, individuals in the community were trained and are being paid to manage the greenhouse. To help maintain the dome, we also created a co-op program where high school students receive credits for volunteering in the greenhouse. Not only does this encourage the students to work towards a high school diploma by providing them with high school credits, but it also provides them with the experience necessary to be employed in the greenhouse in the future.

PGN4.jpeg
Greenhouse layout

The team wants the community to be able to use the greenhouse to its full potential. In addition to providing the town with a greenhouse, the team has conducted educational seminars within the community on healthy eating and greenhouse operations.  We were astounded after realizing that many individuals that attended had misconceptions of what a balanced diet was. Due to high food prices, many community members do not purchase fruits and vegetables and therefore do not receive all the vitamins and nutrients that are necessary for a balanced diet. Our greenhouse open house, which took place on July 12th, 2016, succeeded in showing the community that they would soon be able to purchase fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables in their local grocery store.  Many children and adults stopped by to take a tour of the greenhouse and see cherry tomatoes, kale, peas, lettuce and carrots growing in their home town – a first experience for all.

PGN2
Inviting the locals to have a look inside the greenhouse

The greenhouse has truly become a beloved addition to the community. During each trip we have taken to Naujaat, we have noticed a consistent stream of both children and adults that enjoy coming into the greenhouse to look around, learn and even help out. The look of fascination and excitement we see once we tell them that we are growing fresh food in their hometown is a rewarding experience.  The team has strived to turn the greenhouse into a community space that each member can enjoy and benefit from. The greenhouse, and Growing North as a whole has created deep ties within the town of Naujaat, and with plans for expansion, we hope for the project to do the same in many more communities in Canada’s north.

PGN3

To find out more visit the Project Growing North Facebook page or their Website

The Frankenfood Myth Revisited

The final part from our guest author Jack Bobo this week on food technology. Jack Bobo serves as Chief Communications Officer at the Intrexon Corporation.

In 1992, as the Food and Drug Administration was completing its review of the first genetically engineered (GE) or GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops, an English professor of romantic and Gothic literature from Boston named Paul Lewis wrote a letter to the New York Times in which he commented:AAEAAQAAAAAAAAKeAAAAJDVhYjRkNGIxLTcwNDMtNDY2My05YzcyLWNjNDZiNzc3OGI2OA.jpg

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAKMAAAAJDcwZTE0Y2QwLTQ0NzMtNGRlMS1hNDk4LWJlMGU2NTNhYjEwNg.jpg 

And thus the Frankenfood meme was born.

Professor Lewis really knocked it out of the park with that turn of a phrase.

The story of the Frankenstein monster is part of our modern mythology, representing a cautionary tale for any thing that is brought into existence only to escape control and destroy its creator.

 frankenstein (frank·en·stein): An agency or creation that escapes control and destroys its creatorAAEAAQAAAAAAAAH4AAAAJGRkNTUzNjFjLTMyMDEtNGYxMC1iZTYzLTljZjM4ZWFiMDRjZQ.jpg.

In much the same way, the novel (and subsequent movie), “Jurassic Park”, is a modern retelling of this myth, just as Frankenstein was a retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus.

The essential question that animates each of these stories is “What happens when man reaches too far and plays with forces he does not completely understand?”

Origin StoriesAAEAAQAAAAAAAANgAAAAJDQwMWY4ZGRiLWM1ODEtNDdjNy04NTM5LWVkMzM0YmJlNGZhZg.jpg

When I first learned the origin story for the term “Frankenfood” and its connection to a professor of Gothic literature, I felt compelled to go back and read Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein”. I wondered if the analogy of Frankenstein’s monster to Frankenfood was particularly apt.

I was shocked to learn that almost everything I thought I knew about the Frankenstein monster was wrong. While Shelley clearly ponders the question: “How can we harness the knowledge that we have so that it is not self-destructive and for the benefit of all mankind?” she is not at all clear on her feelings about the use or abuse of technology in the story.

How can we harness the knowledge that we have so that it is not self-destructive and for the benefit of all mankind?”

The deranged and destructive creature we think of when we hear the term “Frankenstein monster” is the creation of Hollywood, not Mary Shelley.

In the novel, Dr. Frankenstein does not create a monster so much as he creates a monstrous creature. The creature eventually becomes a monster, but only after being rejected by society – the true monster of the novel.

Romantic Heroes

Shelley’s novel is filled with the themes of romantic writers: concern with nature, human feelings, compassion for mankind, freedom of the individual, and, most importantly, the Romantic hero who rebels against society.

I was surprised to discover that Shelley’s “monster” was cast in the role of the Romantic hero through his rejection by normal society. Wherever he goes, the monster is chased away because of his hideous appearance and his huge size. These are superficial characteristics, however, for he begins the tale as a kind and benevolent creature who wants nothing more than acceptance by man.

Shelley is attempting to show the reader how many people in conventional society reject the less than average or disfigured souls who live on the margins of our society. We cannot blame the monster for what happens to him, and Shelley elicits from the reader a sympathetic response for a creature so misunderstood.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIMAAAAJDU5ZWJkNDJkLTFlZTAtNDI5NS05MzU4LThiNTJiMTNmYTgyYg.jpg

Far from being the villain of the story, Shelley takes pains to show why we should sympathize with the creature’s dilemma. Late in the novel, even after the creature has taken his revenge against doctor Frankenstein, he is shown as more enlightened than the people who took up their torches and chased him from the castle, as Professor Lewis would have us do today with GMOs. For example, Shelley’s creature explains to Victor Frankenstein, “My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.” During the Romantic period, the vegetarian lifestyle was just catching hold in Europe. Shelley’s husband, Percy, was among the earliest converts. Society was not very encouraging to those who pursued the vegetarian diet, which was viewed as a threat to the natural order of things. 

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAK5AAAAJGJlMDFjNzA3LTQ2NzItNGUxMC04ZWFlLTFiYzQzZGNmZDY0OA.jpg

Morals

Mary Shelley’s creature began his life as a brilliant and innocent being. Society’s blindness to these traits eventually leads him to destroy his creator, but this is done out of despair at being denied the warmth of human affection.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not a simple story of man’s hubris sowing the seeds of his own destruction. It is a complex story that challenges the Enlightenment’s belief in the power of human reason to change society and liberate the individual from the constraints of custom or arbitrary authority.

Romantics were distrustful of the human world, and tended to believe that a close connection with nature was mentally and morally healthy. In Shelley’s story the character most closely aligned with nature, and thus the ideals of the Romantic period, is the creature.

Shelley was no fan of the collective judgment or action of society. As in the novel, the monster of the modern Frankenfood myth is society mindlessly attacking what it does not understand. Professor Lewis’ call to light the torches and storm the castle of GMO food producers is, indeed, the perfect analogy for what took place in Shelley’s novel. 

Change is no easier to accept today than it was in 1818. People still find it difficult to look past outward appearances and judge people (and products) on the quality of their character.

Dr. Frankenstein’s failure was not in pushing the boundaries of science and creating the creature in the first place. It was in pushing those boundaries for his own personal glory. Scientists need a moral compass just as much as any other profession, if not more so.

Conclusion

Genetic engineering is used every day in the laboratory to make new medicines. It is used to produce genetically modified microorganisms that produce enzymes for our beer, wine, and cheese, among other things. All of these uses take place without the least bit of controversy. If people are unhappy with past applications of genetic engineering to our food, they should embrace the technology, rather than reject it. They should make it their own and demonstrate how they believe it should be applied to address the challenges that concern them.

The great tragedy of the Frankenfood meme is that so many people choose to play the part of the mindless mob rather than the Romantic hero representing compassion for mankind and concern for nature. Fortunately, the final chapter of the Frankenfood story has not yet been written. It may yet turn out to be a story of redemption rather than tragedy.

Author: Jack Bobo serves as Chief Communications Officer at Intrexon Corporation.

Original article can be found at: http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/frankenfood-myth-revisited-jack-a-bobo?trk=mp-reader-card

Two Profound Truths About Food

Part two of three from our guest author Jack Bobo this week. Jack Bobo serves as Chief Communications Officer at the Intrexon Corporation.

Two Profound Truths About Food

If I’m not right, then I must be wrong. Right? Well, maybe not.

In less than 3 minutes Derek Sivers delivers a fascinating TED talk in which he demonstrates that the opposite of something we believe to be true, can also be true. This insight reminds us to be humble about what we believe, but also about what we think we “know”. Nowhere is this caveat more relevant than in discussions about food production.

Weird, or just different?

Derek takes as his example the simple fact that we in America navigate by street names. If I tell you to meet me at the Starbucks in Block 14, you will look at me like I’m crazy. The opposite of navigating by street names and street addresses is chaos. And yet, in Japan, this is exactly how they get around.

In the map below, I’ve highlighted in orange the Tokyo Starbucks located at Roppongi 7 Chome-14-1. Roppongi (municipality), 7 chome (city district), 14 (block) and 1 (building). No street address needed.

3edd228.jpg

Makes perfect sense, right? Well, it does if you’re Japanese.

Derek’s example highlights that just because we see the world in a particular way, that doesn’t mean that a different way, or even the opposite way of seeing the world, can’t be true as well.

The Opposite of Organic

We see this same confusion about right and wrong, good and bad, play out in discussions about organic versus conventional agriculture. If organic production uses less fertilizer and fewer pesticides then that is good for the farm. If that is true, then farms that use more fertilizer and more pesticides per acre must be bad.

The conventional farmer does not measure the success of his farm by how few inputs he or she uses. The conventional farmer looks at the return on investment while maintaining the quality of the land. Intensive farming means less pressure to bring more land into production to feed a given population. Today’s American farmer feeds 155 people. That number was only 26 in 1960, which is why forest area and farmland in America have been stable while production soared. For the conventional farmer the opposite of productive is unproductive, which is bad for the farm and bad for the planet.

Organic farmers benefit from the dissemination of technology and agricultural practices developed for conventional farming, such as new seed varieties, drip irrigation and the application of big data. On the other hand, conventional farmers adopt conservation practices pioneered by organic farmers such as low till and no till farming and the use of cover crops.

If the world’s farms were all organic we would need 20-30% more land under cultivation. If we cut down the Amazon rain forest and converted the land into organic farms that would just about do the trick. By contrast, if the world’s farms were all conventional it might take decades longer for many conservation practices to be widely adopted. During that time, many of our rivers, lakes and aquifers would run dry.

The Opposite of a Profound Truth

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 3.22.56 PM.png

If the opposite of a profound truth can also be a profound truth, then tackling common challenges in different ways may not be a problem, but a strength.

Biology, chemistry, ecology, and physics are all forms of science, emphasizing different parts (and analyzing different scales) of the physical world. Ecology is not more or less true than biology, though it may be more or less relevant to a particular question.

What is best for my farm, may not be best for feeding the world today, while what is best for feeding the world today, may not be best for feeding the world tomorrow.

Sustainable agriculture is a journey, not a destination. What is sustainable on one farm, may not be sustainable for a nation. What is sustainable for a nation, may not be sustainable for the world. A better question to ask would be: Is agriculture more sustainable today than it was yesterday?

The answer is certainly yes and we owe that to both the organic and the conventional farmer.

The opposite of a profound truth may, indeed, be another profound truth

About the guest Author: Jack Bobo serves as Chief Communications Officer at the Intrexon Corporation.

Originally sourced from: http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/opposite-truth-jack-a-bobo?trk=mp-reader-card

Image credit: https://echwaluphotography.wordpress.com

Australian Agriculture on AgChatOZ

AgChatOZ is a Twitter-based forum posing seven user-supplied questions to farmers and those involved in the Australian agricultural industry on issues facing agriculture or just general farm life. This week the theme was “Great Australian Agriculture”, providing real-time insight into why Australian farmers and those in the industry do what they do best, and what inspires them to continue. I have selected a few responses to the questions and published them here.

The first question was: “How did you get involved in Agriculture?”

Nyssa ‏@Nyscat

Q1. I woke up one day, and was told to come mustering. Think I was about 4… I was in from then on #agchatoz

Richard McLellan‪@RichardMcLellan
#agchatoz‪ Q1. I reckon that I have #agriculture in my blood too. Come from many generations of farmers – 1st Scotland, then Oz, since 1850

Shaun Coffey ‏‪@ShaunCoffey
#agchatoz‪  Various roles in agriculture have taken me around the world

Sam Livingstone ‏‪@Sam_Grains
Q1 I actually started working at an RDC, after that I still had an interest in Ag, now im a Cattle Producer. ‪#agchatoz

Cynthia Mahoney

Q1 started in dept of Ag as an economist. Went onto facilitation with farm families. Now do leadership devt 4 rural & other sectors #agchatoz

AgriWebb ‏@AgriWebb
Q1: Grew up on a pastoral station, after getting a law degree, working in-house in IT law, it was time to get back to my roots #AgChatOZ

Cynthia Mahoney ‏@cynth_mahons

Q1 Dad was an Ag scientist-loved his work. I loved all subjects at school-Ag sci enabled me to study sci, economics, sociology etc #agchatoz

Robert Hewitt ‏@meat_evangelist 

Q1 went to uni, efficiency of intensive production followed my ideals. Had a tour of a farm, asked for a job, 17 years later… #agchatoz

Angus Whyte ‏@GusWhyte

Q1 Born on a family farm, went away to school/study/work realised how good it is. #agchatoz

RiverinaAimee ‏@RiverinaAimee

Q1. Family farming too. When I left school and worked locally (not directly in ag), I realised Ag was where I was meant to be. #agchatoz

 

The second question looked into “What/who inspires you to do what you do?”

Angus Whyte ‏‪@GusWhyte
Q2 Love working with animals & working with Mother Nature. We set our own high standards, there are many we look up to also.  ‪#agchatoz

Peter McClintock‪@farmerPeteMcC
2) city office job didn’t provide enough risk:reward, no point dying wondering what might have been  ‪#agchatoz

Jennifer Brown ‏‪@AuJennymBrown
Wow truly amazing diversity of ‪#agchatoz chatters. Inspiring for me who needs be am closer to ‪#periurban than rural

Shaun Coffey ‏‪@ShaunCoffey
Q2. ‪#agchatoz  People are a key motivator … they are future makers, shaping the land and natural resources in a productive way

Bridgette Byrne ‏‪@bridgette_byrne
Q2 for the love of the land ‪#agchatoz

Cam Parker ‏‪@camparker62
Q2 ‪#agchatoz those who have made their own way without having it handed to them on a platter are the most inspiring.  Plenty out there

Cynthia Mahoney ‏‪@cynth_mahons
I love working with people 2find their voice, their passion &contribute their skills 2the world. People in Ag have so much 2 offer ‪#agchatoz

Richard McLellan ‏‪@RichardMcLellan
‪#agchatoz‪ Q2. The land. We’ve got an amazing country, which needs to be managed sustainably. #Agriculture has a big role to play.

Sally Tudor ‏‪@tudor_sally
Q2 1st my Gran (best lady ever) 2nd 2 b able 2 improve & leave our patch of heaven in better shape then when we started ‪#AgChatOz

Darren Tyson ‏‪@DarrenJTyson
Q2 Inspired by parents and lifestyle. Use a respected family friend as a role model. ‪#AgChatoz

Cynthia Mahoney ‏‪@cynth_mahons
The ppl in Ag I work with inspire me. It’s amazing how ppl step up & change &do incredible things when they have the right support ‪#agchatoz

Can Agriculture Save the Planet Before It Destroys It?

12039685_1637128159894907_3757044162159634339_n.jpg

Part 1 of 3 from our guest Author Jack Bobo who currently serves as Chief Communications Officer at the Intrexon Corporation.

Most people spend little time thinking about where their food comes from, how it is produced and how it makes it to their plate. Until something goes wrong. As soon as there is a problem — E. coli in spinach or salmonella in peanut butter — people understandably begin to ask questions about food safety inspections, practices of the agriculture industry, and larger questions about how farming has changed in the past 50 years.

The same occurs with respect to hunger. Until 2008, when people in the Middle East and Haiti started rioting because of high food prices, the issue of access and availability of safe and nutritious food had practically disappeared from public discourse. Most of us, unless you’re hungry or there are people protesting or looting in your streets, underestimate the importance of a stable and safe food supply to our society and our standard of living.

With the global population expected to reach nine billion in less than 40 years, the sustainable production of agriculture will be increasingly on the minds of governments, private industry, and even many consumers. Not only do we have to increase the amount of food available, we have to find ways to minimize its footprint on the planet. There is no activity that humankind engages in that has a bigger impact on the planet than agriculture. This is true in terms of impacts on land and water resources as well as in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore one of the great challenges that confront all of us in the next 40 years is to figure out how to maximize the production of food while minimizing the negatives consequences of agriculture — from polluted waterways to disappearing rainforests.

This seems like a daunting task, and yet, science and technology have proven capable of increasing production year after year for decades. Prior to the 1900s, agricultural yields increased at a painfully slow pace. However, at the beginning of the last century a series of agricultural breakthroughs ushered in dramatic growth in food production. The first of these revolutions was the advent of synthetic fertilizer in 1915, followed by mechanization, hybrid seeds, pesticides and, most recently, genetically engineered (GE) crops. Corn is a great example; to produce a bushel of corn we use 50 percent less water, 40 percent less land, 60 percent less soil erosion, 40 percent less energy, and 35 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than we did just three decades ago.

But, we will have to do more.

In order to sustainably feed 9 billion people, global agriculture will need to produce 60 percent more food using less land, less water, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. In other words, we will need to do everything better than we are doing it today and our rivers and lakes are already running dry.

The rapid pace of technological development suggests that scientists may, indeed, be able to sustain the growth of the past. But this will only happen if scientists are able to apply the most advanced technologies to the problems at hand. This is a hardly a certainty at the moment given opposing views of the future as reflected in the slow food movement and liberalized trade in food products. Figuring out how to understand and balance these real and, in some ways, opposing trends, will determine the future health of our planet.

We need the best ideas from organic and ecological food systems combined with modern advances in molecular breeding and genetics if we are to address this pressing challenge and sustainably feed a growing planet. I will be the first to admit that science doesn’t always get it right. It’s also true, however, that you can’t get it right without science.

The good news is that after 2050 population growth will slow dramatically and everything will get easier. So, if we are able to get to 2050 without cutting down our forests and draining our rivers and lakes, we will be good forever. The next 40 years are not only the most important 40 years there have ever been in the history of agriculture. They are also the most important 40 years there will ever be in the history of agriculture.

We owe it to coming generations to use every tool available, from organic production to biotechnology, to increase the quantity and quality of food while minimizing the footprint of agriculture. This will require the attention and effort of all of us. Our lives and the lives of our children depend on it. And, if we’re successful, agriculture just might save the planet.

About the Author: Jack Bobo serves as Chief Communications Officer at Intrexon Corporation. Jack will providing another two articles on the state of agriculture and biotechnology in the following weeks so stay tuned!

Article originally sourced with permission from: Jack Bobo in LinkedIn

 Image source: Yarns From the Farm