Can Innovative Greenhouses in the Arctic Solve Food Security Issues?

It might look like an Igloo, but it's a greenhouse

Food security in the Arctic isn't simple. Access to sufficient variety and nourishment relies as heavily on the weather as anywhere else in the world.

Autor*in Tristan Rayner, 10.12.17

Translation Tristan Rayner:

Food security in the Arctic isn’t simple. Access to sufficient variety and nourishment relies as heavily on the weather as anywhere else in the world.

Climate conditions in the Arctic continue to change rapidly, with temperatures rising twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Traditional ways of sourcing food – such as hunting – are being disrupted, placing additional pressure on remote northern communities, who are experiencing dramatically different seasons.

Currently, 68 per cent of families living in Northern Canada live with food insecurity. Nunavut, a massive territory of northern Canada, forms most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and regularly experiences difficulties in accessing enough food. It is sparsely populated, with 25 communities totalling just some 36,000 people, mostly Inuit. 

Canada’s Arctic still has some of the benefits of the south, where communities are supplied by grocery stores. But issues in the supply chains are easy to see. Towns are small, and transportation costs sky-high, often partly-subsidised by the government.

The Nunavut Bureau of Statistics tracks consumer goods prices and regularly releases data, such as the Select Price Survey. The last release in March 2017 showed shoppers of the north pay 5.93 USD for a kilogram of carrots, three times more than in the average Canadian grocery store at 2.03 USD, and 13.81 USD for a 2.5-kilogram bag of flour, which is 2.8 times more than the average price of 4.91 USD. Fresh produce can only arrive from growing regions, clearly a big issue for the communities thousands of kilometres away.

Growing North and their Vertical Farming Greenhouses

One attempt at solving this problem was embarked on in September 2015 by Growing North, a not-for-profit that built a greenhouse in the Inuit hamlet of Naujaat. A second greenhouse is currently close to completion in Arviat, Nunavut.

The greenhouse in Naujaat is able to grow approximately 13,250lb of produce per year. It was built to a geodesic design, resembling a traditional igloo, to withstand the harsh winter wind and snow. The panels are constructed from polycarbonate glazing panels.

During warmer months (Naujaat has only four months where the temperature rises above zero) the dome is self-sufficient, using solar reflection onto a water thermal mass to assist food growth for seven months of the year using solar power only. Fresh water, often an issue for agriculture, is one of the few resources that isn’t an problem.

In winter, the greenhouse is kept warm by a combined heat and power unit that’s powered by burning used coffee grounds.

Inside, food is grown by both vertical farming methods and modular agro-technology. Vertical farming allows for food to be grown at up to four times the yield per square foot, at less than half the cost of what is shipped from the south.

Challenges include teaching horticulture to the northern communities, and engaging with the local community to ensure the quality of the produce. The first harvest was provided free to the local people to encourage success, and to better understand the foods that were most popular.

Growing North indicate that their model will be financially viable after establishing four greenhouses, with work continuing to advance their projects in the Arctic.

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