Community greenhouse plans year-round garden

"We need someone to put their hand up and say, 'I've got a space for you," executive director says

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Solvest workers are lifted to the green house house roof on Thursday afternoon.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

On August 22, the community greenhouse received a helping hand.

Its roof, suffering from rain and water damage on the building’s commercial side, needed patch repairs. Solvest, which is installing solar panels in the community, offered to do the repairs free, marking a step toward a larger partnership.

The greenhouse’s executive director Ray Solotki hopes that working with the company will help establish a year-round garden in the community.

“Part of this is because they’re nice guys and they care about the community and they want to give back. And part of this is we’re hoping to build a partnership. We’re not just fixing an old greenhouse where people dig in the dirt, but actually building something new that will help people have food all year round,” she said.

Solotki said they need to raise $400,000 from multiple sources to help support that effort.

The roof, meanwhile, was originally replaced in 2015 for $350,000 and was supposed to last 20 years. The project finished in 2016 and almost immediately upon completion there was a huge windstorm, ripping panels off of it. It was too expensive to fix and there was nothing in the greenhouse’s contract to have the work done again.

Despite the greenhouse’s season being expanded, wet season rain falls directly into the building’s  commercial side, pouring into its offices, and undermining its structural integrity.

This caused mould issues, which have been remediated, but the greenhouse couldn’t afford to hire workers to fix the root problem.

“It’s out of our budget,” she said. “We just can’t.”

That’s when Solvest offered to do the patch repairs on the roof.

Solotki said she was in the cafe, explaining it was difficult to find someone qualified to do the repairs. “They all kind of just looked at me and (said,) ‘now you know people,'” she said.

Cam Ouellette of Solvest, who has been installing solar panels with his team around town, wanted to positively contribute more to the community.

“We figured because we’re already doing this kind of stuff, we may as well help out and do good,” he said.

The company had been in the community for two months, and he was aware that other companies tended to come in and leave after short periods of time. It was an opportunity to leave a mark beyond the solar panels around town.

“We don’t want to be another company passing through,” Ouellette said.

 A year-round greenhouse

The partnership is one step in a larger project of developing year-round greenhouses, supported by solar panels, to provide fresh veggies to Northern communities. Solotki hopes the idea can be scalable between communities.

“Maybe it’s a big shipping container here producing enough food for 120, 150 people. Maybe in the communities – maybe it’s the same size – but it’s producing for everybody in the community,” she said.

A shipping container would require energy, and while normal costs to produce that power would be prohibitively expensive, installing solar panels could fill the gap.

She added it would provide an opportunity to employ residents, and support food sovereignty, where local people decide what to grow, and how to distribute it through the year-round greenhouse.

“We don’t have that right now, because we have no ability to grow the food. They’re doing it elsewhere. They’re doing it in Kuujjuaq. They’re doing it in Whitehorse and Yellowknife. There’s no reason why we can’t be doing it and Sachs Harbour can’t do it and Paulatuk and Ulukhaktok.”

To achieve that, they need to build momentum by finding support and space in the community. Chiefly, they need somewhere to put the year-round greenhouse.

“We need someone to put their hand up and say, ‘I’ve got a space for you,” Solotki said.

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