Grow­ing com­mu­ni­ties across the Arc­tic are bring­ing af­ford­able fruit and veg­eta­bles to the north­ern ta­ble

Canadian Wildlife - - CONTENTS - By Staff

Grow­ing com­mu­ni­ties across the Arc­tic are bring­ing af­ford­able fruit and veg to the north­ern ta­ble

When you are ex­pected to pay north of 10 bucks for a hand­ful of toma­toes, you are go­ing to want to think se­ri­ously about grow­ing your own. But when you live north of the 60th par­al­lel, grow­ing veg­eta­bles is no sim­ple propo­si­tion. It is, how­ever, be­com­ing more pop­u­lar. There has been a new will­ing­ness to “grow your own” in the last few years. A farm­ing school is spread­ing the word — and the skills re­quired. And more and more com­mu­nity-ac­cess green­houses are sprout­ing up. To­gether, these grow­ing con­cerns are help­ing to ad­dress se­ri­ous is­sues for those liv­ing in the North: food se­cu­rity, proper nu­tri­tion and af­ford­abil­ity.

For mil­len­nia, hu­mans have har­vested much from the lands north of 60, not only hunt­ing and fish­ing but gath­er­ing a healthy diet of berries, shoots, greens, roots and bark. There is ev­i­dence too that sea kelp and lake grasses were part of the pre­his­toric diet. Be­ing no­madic, early peo­ples had no call or ca­pac­ity for agri­cul­ture. As Europeans ar­rived to set­tle, gar­dens did too. In 1787, the great ex­plorer Alexan­der Macken­zie men­tions see­ing “as fine a kitchen gar­den as I ever saw in Canada,” at the trad­ing post of ex­plorer Peter Pond near Lake Athabasca. By 1930, the Macken­zie Dis­trict was re­port­ing lo­cal har­vests of oats and bar­ley to cau­li­flower, let­tuce and more. Hardy gar­den­ers eked out a har­vest. As ac­cess to the North opened up, more pro­cessed and pack­aged food was shipped from the south, to feed a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. By 1970, when the fed­eral Do­min­ion Ex­per­i­men­tal Agri­cul­tural Sta­tion at Fort Simp­son was shut down, hopes for north­ern agri­cul­ture died on the vine.

It was more than 40 years later, in 2013, that the North­ern Farm Train­ing In­sti­tute opened in Hay River, N.W.T. Es­tab­lished by lo­cal Métis, led by north­ern farm­ing leg­end Jackie Milne, it of­fers agri­cul­ture and an­i­mal hus­bandry train­ing on its 100-hectare cam­pus. Live­stock in­clude goats, cat­tle, yaks and chick­ens, and crops en­com­pass ev­ery­thing from beets, kale and cab­bage to rasp­ber­ries, saska­toon berries and haskap berries. Five years in, more than a hun­dred grad­u­ates from 30 com­mu­ni­ties have re­turned home with “grow­ing en­thu­si­asm.”

For many more north­ern lo­ca­tions, farm­ing is not an op­tion, ex­cept “in­doors.” Green­houses have be­come a pop­u­lar so­lu­tion. In Inu­vik, a city of 3,300 on the Macken­zie Delta, 100 km from the Arc­tic Ocean, the lo­cal green­house pro­gram is en­ter­ing its 20th sea­son. Run by the com­mu­nity as a co­op­er­a­tive, in sea­son they have a farm­ers’ mar­ket and re­cently in­tro­duced an af­ford­able fresh veg­gie box weekly de­liv­ery pro­gram. Nearly 3,000 kilo­me­tres to the east, Iqaluit’s Com­mu­nity Green­house So­ci­ety is in its 17th year pro­vid­ing fresh pro­duce to lo­cals at a frac­tion of what im­ported food costs. Above the tree­line at the south end of Baf­fin Is­land, Nu­navut’s cap­i­tal city has a pop­u­la­tion about 7,800. Last year, the so­ci­ety ini­ti­ated a hy­dro­pon­ics pro­gram in the schools, com­bin­ing hands-in-the-dirt ed­u­ca­tion with a year-round sup­ply of fresh veg­eta­bles. They cel­e­brated Thanks­giv­ing with a home­grown har­vest.

But it is not just the larger cities. In 2013, Nau­jaat (pop: 1,082), on the shores of Hud­son Bay in Nu­navut, a not-for-profit called Grow­ing North built a green­house de­signed to with­stand the harsh cli­mate. The har­vest last year in­cluded 250 heads of let­tuce, 350 kale plants and the fruit from 16 to­mato plants. That was us­ing only half the avail­able space. They held their first farm­ers’ mar­ket as well, sell­ing pro­duce at half the cost in the lo­cal store.

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