New socio-economic role of greenhouses

September 22, 2014
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Greenhouses have proven their commercial importance in Canadian horticulture, with continuing annual sales increases and strong export sales. This is farming most efficient.

But greenhouses also have a strong socio-economic role to play in this country, and we’re encouraged the federal government is recognizing that role. On his recent annual tour of the north, Prime Minster Stephen Harper said the government will spend $2 million to build a permanent campus for the Northern Farm Training Institute in the Northwest Territories. The money will ensure the two-year-old school in Hay River will run programs year-round from a campus set on 300 acres of farmland with greenhouses, offices and classrooms.

And the government, he added, would also spend up to $2 million on an initiative to commercialize and enhance the productivity of greenhouse projects across the north.

We’ve published a number of articles over the years concerning community greenhouse projects in the north. Most are basic level technology and seasonal at best. But they do provide fresh food during those short seasons, to offset the ridiculously high prices northerners pay for produce that must be shipped in over great distances.

And in related news, we noticed a research paper published in the Journal of the Canadian Public Health Association that said hunger is affecting a great many Inuit families, so much so that it may account for the reason the children there are much smaller than the Canadian average. “The observed association between food insecurity and linear growth suggests that the diet quality and quantity of children from food insecure households had been compromised for a long time,” note the report authors.

There have been several similar reports in recent years, all with the same conclusion that food costs, coupled of course with low incomes, have affected the ability of some northerners to adequately feed their families.

Ottawa does subsidize food shipments to northern communities, but it’s clearly not enough. The choice is clear: either substantially increase the subsidies, or provide the facilities necessary for northerners to become more self-sufficient in food production.

We have the technology, or at least a good number of the pieces. The University of Guelph, for example, has long been a world leader in the development of growing facilities directed to extended space travel. Clearly, many of those systems would have applications for remote, northern greenhouses.

Canada is also a leader in aquaponics research and development, as we illustrated in our June 2014 edition. These systems could provide protein (the fish) and fresh produce in a completely closed system.

Greenhouses will play a significant socio-economic role in ensuring the vitality of northern communities and the health of its residents.

We have the technology and necessary research programs.

Now let’s see if we have the will.

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