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%.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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