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Container farms bring fresh vegetables to remote Canadian community

Over 1,000 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife sit two steel shipping containers that are changing how we understand and respond to food production challenges in Canada’s North, and in other harsh and isolated locations. These containers have been retrofitted into a research station in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, where the local community is working with government researchers and a non-profit organization to understand what is needed to create local food sources, clean energy generation, resilient building materials, scalability and adaptability to local needs, and even job opportunities and training.

The local community of Gjoa Haven has named the initiative ​Naurvik​, which means “growing place.” I​t is a first-of-its-kind venture in Canada’s North, being built and adapted on site.

Listening closely to Gjoa Haven Elders and community members, the Arctic Research Foundation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the National Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency are actively collaborating on the design and testing of this green energy-powered controlled environment production unit for growing plants in Canada’s North. The community is deciding what plants they want to grow. It’s then up to the research partners to figure out how to adapt the research to their needs, and to train community partners to operate and maintain the system in the harsh and remote location.

“When I first heard of [the project] I thought it would never work up here. No. Not in this 40 below zero. Now I know anything is possible if you have the right idea... I had a taste of the vegetation. It was fresh”, said Peter Akkikungnaq, Gjoa Haven Elder.

By actively working with the local community, and tailoring solutions to their needs,​ Naurvik​ is creating a roadmap of how to deliver effective programs, infrastructure, and research in Canada’s North. By integrating resilience and adaptability into the design, the goal is that the model will be able to respond to needs in other harsh and isolated locations, not only in Canada’s North, but also on space missions.

“The Canadian Space Agency is looking at innovative solutions to food production challenges that are common to astronauts on deep-space missions and people on Earth living in remote or extreme environments, such as the northern community of Gjoa Haven. While working towards to help with the development of advanced, robust designs for terrestrial food production system, we are hoping to find strategies that could help astronauts grow food in space”, said ​Christian Lange, Head of Exploration Strategic Planning, Canadian Space Agency.

While the project is in its early stages, it’s hoped that by 2025 a community-led, renewable energy-powered plant food production system will be fully operational in Gjoa Haven. It will serve as a scalable blueprint for collaborative partnerships and co-designed projects in the Arctic, and will be a focal point for innovative research and educational opportunities.

“This is an effective, novel approach to community-driven collaboration with science institutions in Canada’s North, and that’s the reason why it has been so successful. It will generate research for the benefit of all Canadians while also producing tangible benefits for Gjoa Haven and, eventually, other communities throughout the Arctic”, Adrian Schimnowski, CEO, Arctic Research Foundation, comments.

For more information:
Arctic Research Foundation

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