Growing North: The journey for food security

Benjamin Canning’s favourite part of his trip to Naujaat, Nunavut, was being known as the greenhouse guy. Canning spent the first week of October in the small northern town building their first year round source for fresh produce.

“People know that there’s something happening in their community that’s beneficial to them and they’re excited about it,” said Canning.

Canning is co-project manager, along with Stefany Nieto, for Growing North, an initiative to address food insecurity in Northern Canada. The project comes out of Enactus Ryerson, a group dedicated to building sustainable solutions to meet needs all across the world.

Before becoming president of Enactus, Nieto wanted to start a project that could address a Canadian need and found that food insecurity in the north was a huge issue. In Nunavut all food besides local game, like caribou and seal, are imported from the South, mainly on large boats from Manitoba. This results in very expensive and often spoiled food imports. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, carrots cost $6.17 compared to the national average of $1.98 and oranges cost $7.94 compared to $3.28. The high price of food is due to the transportation costs incurred by shipping food north.

“When we looked a food insecurity we were startled to find that there was food insecurity in Canada,’ Said Nieto “that’s something that you don’t really hear about.”

Food insecurity is an especially big problem in Nunavut. In 2012, 62 per cent of children were living in food insecure households in Nunavut according to a study conducted by PROOF, a research team dedicated to addressing food insecurity in Canada. The same year the territory had more than double the percentage of food insecure homes compared to the next worse off in the country.

After contacting all 25 communities in Nunavut, Nieto and Canning found that Naujaat was most excited to be a part of the project. Naujaat is a community of about 1200 people, it has one school, two stores and until the greenhouse is functional, no way to grow fresh produce.     

The structure which Canning built will be empty until March, when the Growing North team will set up the hydroponic towers for the plants. The hydroponic towers built by Bright Agrotech allows the food to be grown vertically to maximize space, and also without soil to reduce costs. The produce instead grows in little pods filled with water from a nearby pond.

The structure itself sits in the middle of the town. Its dome shaped and 42 feet wide in diameter and at its highest point is 20 feet tall. The glass panelling allows the sun to stream though during the summer and plans to install solar panels will allow growing to happen all year round for the first time in the territory.

The produce which includes potatoes, kale, herbs and raspberries will be sold through the local stores at a 50 to 90 per cent reduction in cost. Enactus will continue to provide seeds and upkeep for the years to come through the revenue from the food, however the greenhouse is described as a community owned project.

Being engaged in food production is new to the people of Naujaat because nothing can grow naturally in their climate. Through the money and experience gained from the greenhouse, the people of Naujaat will be able invest in other things that will benefit their community like plans underway to build an auto care centre.  

“What we’re trying to do here is jump start a local economy,” said Canning.     

Featured image by Stefany Nieto