Northwest Territories: A Profile of Promising Practices from Canada and Abroad – Inuvik community greenhouse
“People can see the difference between the produce that comes up in a truck and produce that we can produce here.”
Inuvik Garden Society
Government of Canada, Government of the Northwest Territories, Aurora College, Community sponsors, and local businesses
Population of Community:
Project Focus: Recreational gardening and food production; Building a strong sense of community through member support and sharing of knowledge.
Stage of Development:
“Part of the problem in Inuvik is the over availability of non-healthy food.” In the Town of Inuvik, the Community Greenhouse gives local community members access to healthy, affordable food. Located on the Mackenzie River Delta, two degrees above the Arctic Circle, fresh, economical produce is often not available.
The Community Garden Society of Inuvik (CGSI) is a non-profit organization formed in November 1998. The Garden Society wanted to create a positive space for the community. With the help and support of Aurora College, they began converting a decommissioned arena, Grollier Hall, by removing the tin roof and replacing it with polycarbonate glazing. Slated for demolition, the group transformed the arena into a Community Greenhouse, which now serves as a focal point for community development.
The Greenhouse contains two main areas: 74 full-sized community garden plots on the ground floor, and a commercial greenhouse on the second floor. Garden plots are available to residents of Inuvik, and are also sponsored for elders, group homes, children's groups, the mentally disabled, and other local charities. Greenhouse members are required to do 15 hours of volunteer service for each plot they rent. This includes giving tours, watering, and taking care of the children’s or elders’ plots. The commercial Greenhouse produces bedding plants and hydroponic vegetables to cover operation and management costs.
Initially, the Garden Society did a lot of fundraising, cold calls, and letter writing to seek sponsorship from local companies.
Resources to support the collaboration came from grants and donations from the Government of Canada, Government of the Northwest Territories, aboriginal groups, community sponsors, and local businesses. Community sponsors in 2008 included Conoco Phillips, CIBC and Shell Canada.
Some of the non-traditional partners that were brought to the table include: local oil companies and businesses donating in-kind services and time (e.g., plumbers and electricians).
Another important partnership is with the Aurora College Trades Access Program. They have provided carpentry, plumbing, and electrical services to the Greenhouse. This year, they created a partnership with a program in which the Greenhouse provides materials and the College provides student labour and supervision. This has been a great resource for ongoing maintenance and completing new projects at the Greenhouse.
Aurora College, who helped support the conversion of the arena to a greenhouse, and the Community Garden Society Board of Directors were the key decision-makers who approved this project. Local political support for this project came from the Mayor at the time of its inception.
Planning & Implementation
During the spring and early summer of 1999, the project progressed from the conceptual and feasibility stage, into the renovation and construction phase, and finally through to operation.
Photo credit: Inuvik Community Greenhouse Society
The Greenhouse serves as a community-development project that not only grows food, but plays host to school groups, workshops and tourists. Every Saturday, a community market is held to sell produce and other local goods; as well, there is a carnival for the kids. This has helped bring more family culture into the community.
Some informal feedback has been received from community members through the Community Garden Society Board, but the only structured reporting was done as a requirement of the various government grants. Generally, the Greenhouse is very well supported by the town and gets positive feedback from the community. It is one of the top tourist attractions in Inuvik and, in this sense, an important economic generator for the community.
One major challenge is the high turnover at the board level and among volunteers – this is partly because it is so much work to run the Greenhouse, and this work is predominately done on a volunteer basis. Another reason is the transitional nature of the community, to which many people come temporarily or on a seasonal basis. The Greenhouse does have a part-time paid coordinator, but this is a seasonal position and the majority of the work is done by the board and community volunteers. This is currently the biggest challenge the board is facing. If funding were available for a full-time coordinator, the Greenhouse could be run more efficiently.
Relationships with partners have been very positive. However, the high turnover rate of staff and volunteers has resulted in a loss of knowledge, and partnership relationships and donations have suffered from this. The local community and the board have worked very hard to make the daily operations of the Greenhouse a reality, but there is a need for more local leadership in the community, and a need for a local champion who is committed to the long-term vision of the Greenhouse.
One other challenge is the community’s perception of the Greenhouse, said Amanda Joynt, Chair of the Inuvik Garden Society Board of Directors. “We have a limited membership and a limited number of plots, so you have to work hard to make sure the community understands that the Greenhouse is for them. You do not want to make it look like a 100 member exclusive club.” Therefore, the Greenhouse puts on workshops, has a partnership with a local quilting guild to display their quilts in the Greenhouse classroom, and has started a gift shop and a Saturday market that is open to the public. Greenhouse volunteers also make the flower baskets that hang around town and hold a yearly plant sale that is advertised to the local community.
Additional funding for a permanent coordinator is a major resource still needed. Unfortunately, the grant and donation money received is not eligible to pay for salaries.
One factor that has contributed to the success of the Greenhouse is media coverage – as the most northerly operational greenhouse in North America, there has been a lot of international interest.
Unanticipated spin-offs as a result of the project include a few other northerly greenhouse projects including the Iqaluit Greenhouse Project and the Arctic Devon Island Greenhouse Project.
There is a possibility in the future that the food bank will move to the Greenhouse and partner with the Healthy Foods North Program. If this becomes a reality, it will really promote healthier eating in the community. “People can see the difference between the produce that comes up in a truck and produce that we can produce here.”
Advice to Other Communities
Advice to other communities includes:
- Try to use the infrastructure you already have; building a greenhouse from scratch is expensive; and
- Get political support and something in writing in terms of support and taxes. Try to get the land donated – a project like this will benefit the entire community.
Evaluation and Impact
Over the last few years, more local First Nations people have been joining the Greenhouse and raising crops. This is not part of their tradition here, but it is catching on and becoming quite popular.
Even though the health outcomes have not been formally evaluated, the Community Garden Society’s 100 plus members and their supporters can say with confidence that the project has experienced unequalled success and will serve as an effective model for other northern communities.
Amanda Joynt, Chair
Inuvik Garden Society Board of Directors
Inuvik Community Greenhouse
P.O. Box 1544, Inuvik
Northwest Territories X0E 0T0
Inuvik Community Greenhouse
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