The Growcer shipping container repurposed as a hydroponic garden in Churchill. Carley Basler photo.
Churchill’s Boreal Gardens was a pioneer in attempting to grow local vegetables in the hard to access village on the Hudson Bay. While this was a novel attempt, the operation never quite made it to a scale that could make a dent in the economic distribution costs of providing vegetables to Churchillians in need of help.
Carley Basler is changing this dynamic with deliveries of fresh veggies to homes in town. Basler’s venture, Rocket Greens, is managed through the Churchill Northern Studies and is the first full-scale vegetable distribution system in Churchill and people are excited about the future of this new process. Rocket Greens derives its name from being located next to the Churchill Northern Studies Center on the grounds of the former rocket testing range to the east.
“It’s fresh food, fresher than probably anything that Churchill has ever experienced,” Basler said.
Carley Basler, system manager of the Growcer system at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, works the hydroponic garden.= at the CSNC. Warren Kay/CBC photo.
Fresh produce in Churchill has always been in short supply and at high prices due to the secluded nature of the town. Now after nearly a year of no freight train service from the south resulting from track damage from washouts, people are suffering nutritionally and economically.
This new approach is the brainchild of Growcer, an independent hydroponic systems company from the south. They currently produce these storage container sized units set up for the immediate growth and harvesting of vegetables via the streamlined hydroponic method they have developed.
With winter winding down, and the windchill of –50 C outside subsiding, Basler tends her hydroponic garden in a computer-controlled climate. Large plants of kale, spinach, arugula, and lettuce bloom from the tubular channels of water.
“What we are doing is growing about 400 to 450 units of produce that we can harvest weekly and make available in our community,” said Basler, currently the system manager for the operation under the CNSC.
In addition to her weekly vegetable subscriber program, Basler is supplying two grocery stores with product that is lowering prices to nearly half the cost of shipped in produce. This has been a breath of fresh air for the townspeople who have been relying on government food subsidies just to get by.
Hydroponic commercial viability in the north has been attempted before with little or no success. Growcer is designed to become profitable by allowing growers to start off small and gradually add units as they “grow”. Pun intended. Containers cost $210,000 per unit and are ready to go upon delivery requiring only electrical and water connections.
Each unit potentially will turn a profit of between $30,000 and $40,000 a year in most situations. These units have the ability to relieve reliance on good being shipped from the south at exorbitant costs via rail or air.
This self-contained local operation has the ability to relieve the reliance on these methods. Developing a system that can grow rooted vegetables like potatoes is on the table to be developed by Growcer.
“It’s available weekly regardless of rail service or air service or weather,” Basler said.
“It’s a lush green garden in the dead of winter, so that’s pretty unique.”
Opportunities to live and work in Churchill for the science and nature minded are available right now at the Churchill Northern Studies Center! Short term volunteer positions are available for northern lights season during January and February. If you are interested contact them here: firstname.lastname@example.org
The CSNC is at the far reaches of the road heading out through the Churchill Wildlife Management Area and out to the old Churchill rocket range. What a place to spend a couple of months this winter or possibly a longer stint as Assistant Director!
Natural Habitat Adventures guide Drew Hamilton reports that northern lights season in Churchill got off to a roaring start this week! Awesome aurora borealis and fine first looks from Natural Habitat’s Aurora pod and the Aurora Domes warmed the hearts and hands of his group of hearty travelers. The season started with -40 degree temps though the groups spirits were sky high as one could imagine. The trip is superbly outfitted with high – tech gear to keep all travelers warm while they patiently and excitedly wait for lights in the northern sky. The advantage to the colder Arctic air is it usually ensures crystal clear skies for exceptional visibility. A spectacular moon and stellar sun dogs each day added “icing” on this past week’s phenomenal start to the season.
Northern lights over Churchill. drew Hamilton photo.
Natural Habitat guide Drew Hamilton with an icy beard. Drew Hamilton photo.
Days were filled with incredible cultural presentations on the history and ecology of Churchill from local native elders Caroline Bjorklund and Myrtle de Meulles as well as Parcs Canada interpreter Duane. Snow sampling out at the Churchill Northern Studies Center with Matt and Igloo building with Harry Tootoo supplemented th esub – Arctic experience quite well. A supreme highlight of the trip was dog sledding with Dave Daly at Wapusk Adventures. The Ididamile is still going strong! What a start to the new season!
Doing the Ididamile with Wapusk Adventures. Drew Hamilton photo.
The dogyard at Wapusk Adventures. Drew Hamilton photo.
A swirl of aurora borealis over Churchill’s boreal forest. Drew Hamilton photo.