Greenhouses springing up in Fort Simpson

Greenhouses springing up in Fort Simpson
Sandra Donohue helps her daughter-in-law water plants at Fort Simpson’s community garden.Photo: Karen McColl.

Locally grown produce may be showing up on the dinner plates of Fort Simpson residents more often next year with two commercial greenhouse projects breaking ground in the community.

Local business consultant Earl Browning recently acquired 43 acres of property near the airport, where he plans to build two commercial greenhouses.

In the combined space of more than 750 square metres (8,000 square feet), he and his partner Denise Gaudet will grow vegetables and herbs to sell locally.

Browning says he hopes to start clearing the land in the fall and have the greenhouse operational next spring.

Browning plans to yield 2,500 kilograms each of tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers and 250 kilograms of herbs in the first year, based on a six-month growing season. His goal is to double production in the second year by growing 12 months a year.

Meanwhile, Mark Gillanders and Shelley Empey, who moved to Fort Simpson just over a year ago, are also busy clearing land for two seasonal greenhouses and one year-round wood-heated greenhouse they want to have up and running this fall.

In addition to tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, Empey said they may grow kale as well as hot and sweet pepper varieties.

Although she doesn’t have much experience growing in greenhouses, Empey said she has learned a lot from workshops taken with the Northern Farm Training Institute in Hay River.

She and Gillanders received funding from Industry, Tourism and Investment to buy a tractor and a solar greenhouse for this project.

Empey said they will use permaculture growing techniques, an increasingly popular method of sustainable growing that involves “working with nature” by intermingling plants and using beneficial insects.

In what Gillanders refers to as “different growing experiments,” the couple also plan to use fish tanks to circulate nutrients to the plants.

One incentive for the greenhouse, Empey said, is so “everyone will be able to eat good food and be able to afford it.”

Sean Whelly, mayor of Fort Simpson, said these are the first commercial greenhouse projects for the village and hopes they will contribute to healthier living and help replace higher priced store-bought foods.

“The cost of living here is going up,” he said, “especially when you look at the price of food in the Northern Store.”

After spending days or weeks on trucks to get to Fort Simpson, the produce is often of poorer quality as well, Whelly said.

Empey, who along with Gillanders has also lived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and Norman Wells, seconds that. “Everything is coming out of the (United States).”

She laments having to pay almost $6 for three tomatoes in Fort Simpson.

Browning, who was raised on a farm at Trout River, sees this project as business opportunity that can serve communities beyond Fort Simpson, including Wrigley, Jean Marie River, Trout Lake, Fort Liard and perhaps work camps in the area.

“I think it would probably be beneficial,” he said.

Fort Simpson also has a community garden with more than 30 members who have tended their crops near the Papal Grounds for the past three years and in smaller areas around the community previously.

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