A new growing system on its way to Inuvik will mean fresh greens and herbs all year long, even through the town’s dark and frigid winters.
The Inuvik Community Greenhouse says it has received funding for a “new, year-round greenhouse” that will not only result in extra food but also boost local employment.
Executive director Ray Solotki told Cabin Radio the money comes from CanNor’s IDEANorth program. Over the next three years, the non-profit will receive $485,000 to build and maintain a hydroponic greenhouse.
“I’ve been working on this for five and a half years, so it’s a pretty exciting thing to have happen in Inuvik,” Solotki said.
According to Solotki, the hydroponic greenhouse will be an additional growing space and won’t affect programming in the non-profit’s existing facility, which houses plots for Elders and the local food bank.
The new greenhouse will instead allow food to be grown in a whole new way.
Hydroponics refers to growing plants using nutrient-rich water rather than in soil. Without the need for sunlight and completely indoors, the growing season can be extended throughout the year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted northern food security, Solotki said. With supply chains disrupted, more residents in Inuvik have turned to local options.
The new greenhouse will help to meet that demand.
“Whereas we used to see a lot of transient people or people from the south shopping at our summer markets, we see a lot more local people interested in buying food that comes from their community,” she said. “We’re hopeful that this facility will provide that food that they’re looking for.”
The community greenhouse has contracted Yukon-based corporation ColdAcre, which specializes in building hydroponic greenhouses within shipping containers, to do the work.
Carl Burgess, ColdAcre’s chief executive, said: “We’re growers and food producers for the Whitehorse market, so we’re happy to share everything we’ve learned.
“It’s a great way to help get the word out that these applications are available and, with the right planning, they’re quite effective.”
Future of Arctic food production
Solotki says the new greenhouse will provide employment opportunities and – through produce sales at local markets and food subscriptions – generate cash for the organization.
Even with support from the GNWT, Town of Inuvik, United Way and others, the greenhouse is always “just scraping by,” Solotki said.
More money coming in will mean more free programming.
“We can take on more projects that deal with food security,” Solotki said. “We can take on more educational projects, which is what we really are passionate about: helping people learn how to garden effectively.”
That vision extends beyond Inuvik. Solotki hopes to expand programs and hydroponic systems to other communities in the Beaufort Delta.
“Once we see how things work, we can bring people in from the Beaufort Delta communities to get an idea of what would work to them, and if it’s something they want in their communities,” she said.
“We’re hopeful that this could be a hub to help others in the future.”
In the meantime, the greenhouse will begin with leafy greens and herbs in the new facility – plants which do well in a hydroponic system. Those plants “won’t solve all of our food security problems,” Solotki acknowledged, saying they’re a start.
Eventually, the greenhouse is expected to grow bigger vegetables such as carrots and potatoes.
“My hope is that the community gets as excited as I am,” Solotki said.
“I really hope this is the start of something big for the future of food production in the Arctic.”