Northern greenhouse project receives boost

Northern greenhouse project receives boost
Cara Wehkamp, a researcher at the University of Guelph, looks over greenhouse tomatoes in the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility on campus.Photo courtesy of University of Guelph.

Fresh butterhead lettuce, long English cucumbers and tomatoes all year round in the Northwest Territories?

The possibility of more local food production in even the varied and harsh landscapes of the NWT is gaining momentum after the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) invested $270,000 in a pre-feasibility study examining new generation greenhouses in remote Northern communities.

The AgNorth Demand and Design Study will be led by the Aurora Research Institute (ARI), the research division of Aurora College, along with partners including Medina Quality Food Assurance Services, Arctic Energy Alliance and COM DEV International Ltd., a Canadian-based designer and manufacturer of equipment used in space exploration.

The investment was made just before Christmas and announced by Leona Aglukkaq, the federal minister of Health, responsible for CanNor and Canada’s representative on the Arctic Council.

Sarah Rosolen, manager of ARI’s South Slave Research Centre, is working on the study. She said the project will explore greenhouse options including alternative energy technologies, LEDs, sensor technologies and hydroponics with nutrient sensors.

These technologies have been used for research on growing food in space and the AgNorth Demand and Design Study will adapt them for use in Northern climates.

“We’re just starting on this project and, of course at the same time, we’re mapping out what implementation would look like,” Rosolen said. “It’s neat because it’s a scalable project, so looking at an application in a small community will be different than one in Yellowknife…We’re looking at what this would be great for, like having one at a mine site.”

The study began early this year and it is not known how long it will last, Rosolen said.

“Aurora College is excited about the possibilities this type of research brings to the NWT. A ‘Grown in the NWT’ food program could improve food security, improve the quality of produce available to Northerners, lower food costs, improve community health and reduce our food’s carbon footprint,” Aurora College president Jane Arychuk said in the CanNor release.

“It could also create a new generation of economic opportunities in Northern agriculture – jobs, skills and entrepreneurial prospects – for communities across the NWT.”

The project was triggered by research done at the University of Guelph’s Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility and 10 years of operating a High Arctic greenhouse research facility modeling food production in space on Devon Island in Nunavut north of the 75th parallel.

The team will be guided by ARI’s mandate to improve the quality of life for NWT residents by applying scientific, technological and indigenous knowledge to solve Northern problems and advance social and economic goals.

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