Ketchup for $14, orange juice for $29 and cauliflower for $13.79 – the Facebook group Feeding My Family exchanges snapshots of food prices in Nunavut, which are up to three times as high as the national average.
In Canada’s remote northern communities, traditions have shifted from the consumption of locally sourced, hunted and harvested food to store-bought food, most of which is transported over long distances, resulting in high prices and a limited selection. A Statistics Canada report estimates that more than one-third of households in Nunavut lack access to safe and healthy food – a level that is four times the national average.
Statistics about food in Canada’s North inspired Qiang Zhang, a professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering at the University of Manitoba who has been thinking about greenhouse design for almost two decades, to find an answer.
“We’ve got a solution,” says Dr. Zhang. “We are developing a system that we can pack in a shipping container, ship it to the North, and the container becomes part of the greenhouse structure.”
With support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, he set to develop a nearly complete prototype of a low-cost, energy-efficient and all-in-one greenhouse that functions in an extreme northern climate.
“[The greenhouse] will be heated with locally available biomass materials, such as solid waste or wood, which are processed into pellets,” says Dr. Zhang. “And we will also use energy-efficient LED lights specially designed for growing greenhouse plants.”
The shipping container can be used as a growth chamber or to house an energy-conversion system, which turns local biomass into energy. Heating and powering the greenhouse is a unique, ultra-high-efficiency boiler-generator, powered by pellets. And each greenhouse could ship with its own biomass heating facility.
Dr. Zhang hopes to partner with a northern Manitoba community of several hundred to test-drive the new system and grow the first crop. “Hopefully it will be suitable for application across the North,” he says.
Sponsor content feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.