The first frosts have already arrived in Ontario, but in Sheshegwaning First Nation, a small community on the western edge of Manitoulin Island, April Folz is still awaiting the first harvest of the year. In about a week, Folz says, the community will have fresh produce: “Monte Carlo romaine lettuce, wildfire lettuce. We have a couple of variations of kale and spinach. I’m missing something,” says Folz, the economic development director at Sheshegwaning First Nation. “Oh, bok choy! I’m excited for that.”
Sheshegwaning First Nation, a two-hour drive from the mainland, is home to about 130 residents. There’s a convenience store in the community with a few grocery items, but the nearest grocery store is 40 minutes away. When COVID-19 hit, the community put up a checkpoint, and Folz says, there was talk of closing the swing bridge to outsiders. That would have made it “tough to get food in,” says Folz. So, in response, community leaders came up with a locally grown solution.
In June, the community purchased a container farm from the Ottawa-based company Growcer for about $300,000. Folz describes the setup as a repurposed shipping container divided into six growing sections, with a separate room housing climate controls and a monitoring system. The growing sections are outfitted with shelving, LED lighting, and a hydroponic growing system in which plants grow with their roots in water rather than soil.