Three and a half years after the tiny Inuit hamlet of Gjoa Haven embraced the challenge of growing fruit and vegetables in wind- and solar-powered greenhouses, the initiative is going strong, delighting residents, and improving local diets and food security.
Located almost 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, with winter overnight temperatures averaging -40°C, Gjoa Haven is “an unlikely place to grow vegetables,” award-winning photojournalist Amber Bracken writes for the Globe and Mail.
But that’s precisely what residents are doing. Greens like sorrel and romaine, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, and sunflowers are all thriving inside five recycled shipping containers in a project called Naurvik. or “the growing place” in Inuktitut. Equipped with magenta grow-lights, the containers are powered by solar panels during the day and wind turbines at night. Diesel kicks in as a last resort.
The greenhouse and its leafy denizens are nurtured by local women who say they felt surprise and joy upon discovering they had green thumbs.
“It was so amazing. Oh my God, it was just amazing,” said project manager Betty Kogvik, recalling the first time she harvested romaine lettuce that she had grown from seed. “And tasting it, it was so fresh.”
Naurvik began humming with green life back in October 2019, when the community started with three containers retrofitted as “pods”—a grow pod, a utility pod, and a power pod. Created in partnership with the Arctic Research Foundation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the National Research Council Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency, the project now has five containers, with two more housing a workshop.
The fruits and veggies Naurvik produces are being relished with wonder and delight. “One elderly lady even danced with joy when she got her lettuce,” Kogvik told CBC News in January 2020.
Gjoa Haven hopes to produce more fresh, delicious food, which is currently being given away for free, primarily to community Elders.
In contrast to such a bounty, one single loaf of bread at the community’s grocery store costs C$9.29: a prohibitive amount reflecting the degree of food insecurity suffered by many Northerners, especially Indigenous peoples.
A recent literature review by the Library of Parliament in Ottawa found that 57% of households in Nunavut are food insecure, an unsafe reality owing to multiple complex and interrelated factors like isolation, poverty, socioeconomic inequity—including territorial dispossession—and the climate crisis.
But by 2025, Gjoa Haven’s project could expand into a larger effort to grow food for everyone in the community, Arctic Research Foundation CEO Adrian Schimnowski told Nunatsiaq News in 2020.
To this end, two companies have been contracted “to develop a training program for Naurvik technicians that draws on traditional and Western knowledge,” Bracken writes.