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Strawberries in the North

Enactus Memorial launches hydroponics program in Labrador

By Susan White

A group of undergraduate students are working to enhance food security in Canada’s North.

Enactus Memorial, a student-run group that aims to improve people’s lives by developing community projects that focus on and apply business processes and models, launched Project Succseed in Rigolet in December. Project Succseed uses hydroponics to grow affordable, fresh produce for use in rural communities while potentially exposing youth to careers in agriculture.

Emily Bland, president, Enactus Memorial, says the group wanted to develop a project focused on agriculture and sought input through a provincewide needs assessment and consultations with the business community in St. John’s.

Part of the solution

“It kept coming back to food security and healthy eating,” she said. “We started looking at the fact that we need 70 per cent more food by 2050 [according to the Federation of Agriculture] and there’s not going to be some super farm that’s just going to pop up and feed everyone. People are really going to have to take the initiative themselves and they’re really going to have to step up and make that difference and be part of providing themselves.”

The group looked at traditional and non-traditional gardening practices and settled on hydroponics as the best fit. Working with Jason Stevens, project engineer, Technical Services at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, they developed a hydroponics system that uses mostly recycled materials and can be used year-round.

They elected to test the system in Rigolet, the home community of Enactus member Victoria Allen, where five people are participating in the pilot project and will be growing fresh produce for their families. Any extra produce will be sold at a local convenience store.

Inez Shiwak is one of participants in Rigolet. She says the potential for the project’s growth, learning and employment made her want to take part. Ms. Shiwak talks about the project in the following video provided by Enactus Memorial.

“When you think of being able to grow produce or vegetables in six weeks it was like, oh, this could be something to try and it could lead to other areas of employment or lead to a side job if I wanted to make it that way,” she said.

Ms. Shiwak sees the project as providing options for education as well.

“Maybe we could approach the school and say look, we’re here, we have this knowledge, so maybe we can come in and do something with maybe the kindergartens … So it’s there to pass on our knowledge that we’ve gained to somebody else.”

That’s a big hope for Enactus as well. The group is currently expanding the project to Nain, Wabush, Hopedale and Branch and is in talks with some schools in the Avalon region to look at using Project Succseed in classrooms to teach biology and health. It may also help provide healthy food options for lunch programs (they will be launching a crowdfunding campaign soon to help cover the costs of the classroom initiative).

“Growing up, we did the bean plant and you’d wait six or eight weeks and no kid ever wanted to eat the bean at the end of it. We feel it’s going to be a lot more impactful if you have kids making fresh strawberries,” said Ms. Bland. “I think that will be the difference in getting kids excited about learning and excited about agriculture.”

Long-term growth

Enactus Memorial is also exploring options to make the system fully organic and made entirely out of recycled materials and eventually hopes to partner with the University of the Arctic to expand across all northern regions.

“Long-term our team would love to see it operating in numerous co-operatives, not only across Newfoundland and Labrador but across Canada and northern areas around the world,” said Ms. Bland. “There’s no reason why places in Northern Russia can’t be doing this. We’d love to make as much impact as we can because it’s the 21st century and it’s absolutely ridiculous that people have to pay eight bucks for a partially mouldy head of cauliflower.”

The response has been incredible, she adds, noting that after an article in The Telegram newspaper shortly after launch, they started getting orders from as far away as Las Vegas, Nev., and Norway.

“What really surprised us was it’s not just northern, rural communities that want something like this. It seems to be everyone.”

Enactus Memorial has partnered with Choices for Youth to produce the hydroponic systems. Funding to develop the pilot project in Rigolet came from the Office of Public Engagement.

Enactus Memorial is supported by the Faculty of Business Administration.

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