A teacher in a remote Nunavut community is trying to buy and build a greenhouse in the hopes that he and his students can cut the sky-high costs of healthy eating in the North.
"We're at almost 24-hour daylight here now, so for the next five months, there's going to be more than enough daylight," Adam Malcolm, who works at the Inuksuit School in Qikiqtarjuaq, told The Canadian Press.
Like many northern communities, perishables arrive at the store by air. That means four tomatoes cost $14. A bag with six apples and three oranges is $20.
Want blueberries? Even a tiny package – and they're a little mouldy – is $12.
And Malcolm says that's with the Nutrition North subsidy for healthy foods.
He's started a GoFundMe campaign aimed at raising $4,500 for a greenhouse about the size of a garden shed. The goal is to have it shipped to the community from Ottawa so planting can begin in June.
Malcolm said seeds are already on the way which students will plant in the school right away and then transfer into the greenhouse when classes end for the summer.
"They're all really keen on it. The whole idea of growing vegetables in the North is a real novelty here," he said.
They're not the first to consider greenhouses as an alternative to importing expensive produce from the south, but it's always a challenge for anyone who tries.
Days of continuous sunlight in the summer mean long stretches of perpetual darkness in the winter, which means expensive investments in lights, heating systems and insulation for anyone who wants to grow year-round.
Even a small summer greenhouse like the one Malcolm's students want will need a heater so the plants can survive the cold nights.
Larry Lenton, with Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, says the high costs of such equipment quickly drive up the price of any vegetables a northern greenhouse can commercially produce. On top of that, Lenton says the communities are small and spread out, which means the market size is tiny.
A lack of people with the necessary green-thumb skills is also a hurdle, according to a ministry study several years ago on the viability of greenhouses in the North.
But Lenton said small-scale projects like the one spearheaded by Malcolm grow more than just vegetables – they nurture the skills needed for a greenhouse capable of supplying healthy food for everyone in their community.
"It almost starts from there, just that community interest of having that ability to grow food," said Lenton, an outreach director with the science and technology branch based in Regina.
Malcolm says he hopes the crowdfunded greenhouse in Qikiqtarjuaq could one day lead to a larger-scale operation capable of feeding more people.
If they get enough money and the season goes well, in the fall students will be harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peas, melons and hot peppers.
"A couple of students wanted to try hot peppers because they don't believe hot peppers really grow from plants," Malcolm said.