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Kugluktuk greenhouse gears up for fall growth

The seeds have been planted and crops are growing in Kugluktuk's hydroponic greenhouse for its first fall season.

The project, based inside a six-metre seacan and overseen by the Hamlet of Kugluktuk, was on hiatus during the summer, said economic development officer Matt Stadnyk. It began operations in February and completed its pilot phase in June.

This converted six-metre seacan serves as Kugluktuk's greenhouse. Leafy greens growing in local tap water thrive inside. photo courtesy of Lori Rudyk

Varieties of lettuce – romaine, iceberg, wildfire – as well as kale, arugula and herbs are grown and can be harvested in as little as three weeks.

Funding has been secured to help offset operational expenses, the largest of which is the power bill. Electricity runs close to $3,400 per month.

“It's pretty significant. Unfortunately not much can be done about it. We're heating up a box in the Arctic to almost tropical temperatures in there,” said Stadnyk. “The benefit we get out of it far outweighs that. It's just a matter of getting creative with our funders and building up a reserve fund from the profits of it.”

The operation isn't profitable yet. A new subscription basket program will be offered to residents soon, but the details were still in development as of Aug. 29, according to Stadnyk. Previously sales were $5 per head of lettuce through a punch-pass program, which gave customers a free fifth head after purchasing four. Dozens upon dozens of community members were regular customers, said Stadnyk.

“The amount of recipes and pictures that people have been uploading (online) has just been remarkable,” he said. “I can't believe how many people took the produce and were so proud to share what they made with it... they combined it with local greens and berries and they combine it with char and maktaaq and other traditional proteins as well. It was exactly the response I'd hoped for.”

It only takes three weeks for Kugluktuk's hydroponic greenhouse to produce lettuce that looks like this. photo courtesy of Matt Stadnyk

Lori Rudyk is one of those loyal customers.

I am super enthused about the Kugluktuk greenhouse. Everything I’ve tried has been delicious. I have tried the tatsoi (a green), mixed salad greens and stirfry mix,” she stated. “My son loves them all too, and I feel better about his meals when they contain fresh greens. I find the prices to be fair, especially since the roots can be placed in water to retain freshness, so less waste too.”

Naomi Tremblay is also a fan of the greenhouse's crops.

"The greens were very fresh, pulled right out of the water," she said. "I would buy four bunches a week, one of each. I eat a lot of greens so the bunches were really quite adequate. It was very nice to have fresh greens."

Locally-grown produce was shared earlier this year with the elementary school, high school, the women's shelter and a few community events.

Opportunities to put local greens on shelves at the Co-op or the Northern will also be explored, Stadnyk added.

“We're not trying to undercut anyone,” he said. “We're trying to provide the best quality produce and profit to our resellers as well to make sure there's value in it for them to support local produce.”

Three volunteers have been integral to keeping the greenhouse running, Stadnyk noted. It takes about two hours per day to maintain the crops.

Not everything has gone without a hitch. There was initially a low success rate with the herbs growing in the local tap water but some tinkering has been done to correct that, said Stadnyk.

“We're feeling confident now with the experience of our pilot phase that we now know exactly what we're getting into and how to get the best yield for our crops,” he said.