Communities in the northern regions of Canada and elsewhere in the subarctic struggle with food insecurity due to the decreased availability and affordability of food. In fact, the rate of food insecurity for Inuit homes in the territory of Nunavut is over eight times higher than the Canadian average. There are many factors that contribute to food insecurity in the north. Barriers to traditional subsistence lifestyles such as hunting restrictions, decreasing wildlife populations, and loss of traditional knowledge contribute to food insecurity, as they decrease the availability of food that would have once sustained these indigenous communities. Without being able to live off of traditional foods, northern communities must rely on imported food.
The accessibility and affordability of imported food is extremely limited, as the majority of produce and packaged food must be imported by train, plane, or ship. The transportation of food can take several weeks, often resulting in food spoilage during transit and bare shelves in the grocery stores. Additionally, the high cost of shipping results in the inflation of food prices. A simple head of broccoli can cost as much as $9 CAD in northern Canadian communities.
One way that food insecurity is being addressed in northern Canada is by finding ways to successfully grow produce in the north. Northern Canada is subject to extreme temperatures and short growing seasons, yet projects like Churchill Northern Studies Centre’s Rocket Greens have found a way to overcome these obstacles and grow fresh produce. Rocket Greens makes use of a hydroponic system within a heavily insulated shipping container in order to grow their produce year-round. The shipping container, designed by Growcer Modular Food Solutions, has space for 1200 seedlings within a separate nursery and has 1800 spots for mature plants in the nutrient rich water tables. Upwards of 40 varieties of greens, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and berries are grown by Rocket Greens and distributed to local businesses and communities on a monthly basis. The highly transportable nature of the shipping container allows it to be transported to remote northern communities, helping to ensure that residents have access to fresh and healthy produce!
Similarly, in Inuvik, a community located in Canada’s Northwest Territories, food insecurity is being addressed in part by a community garden greenhouse. An old multi-story hockey arena was transformed into a greenhouse in order to help community members grow their own produce. The greenhouse provides a growing season from May to October which is a significant improvement over the outdoor season which typically lasts from June to August. This greenhouse not only allows individuals to introduce fresh and healthy foods into their diets but allows them to learn new skills and take part in a community-building activity.
As demonstrated by these projects, it is possible to grow produce in northern communities. As these and similar initiatives grow in popularity, residents of the north will have more options to obtain affordable and healthy fresh produce.
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