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Alberta

Greenhouses aim to bring fresh produce to North, putting a dent in food insecurity

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INUVIK, N.W.T. — Rows upon rows of raised beds growing tomatoes, zucchini, beans, wildflowers and herbs line the inside of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse. 

Sunlight streams through the panes of the curved ceiling above as children sprinkle their crop with green plastic watering cans. 

The commercial greenhouse in the western Arctic community in the Northwest Territories is in a former hockey arena. There, community members can rent plots to grow vegetables and other plants, and learn about gardening. 

“Every time I come in here, I only ever see people smiling,” said Adi Scott, who co-ordinates the greenhouse.

Remote and Indigenous communities, particularly in the North, are increasingly using greenhouses to grow their own produce, promote self-sufficiency and in some cases create economic opportunity, said Andrew Spring, an assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Canada Research Chair in northern sustainable food systems.

“Food security has been an issue across the North because of the high cost of groceries … (and) the long-term impacts of colonization on northern Indigenous communities,” Spring said. 

Data from Statistics Canada indicates that 46.1 per cent of people in Nunavut, 23.1 per cent in the Northwest Territories and 15.3 per cent in the Yukon lived in food-insecure households in 2019 compared with a national average of 10.6 per cent. 

Much of the food flown North is processed, not to mention expensive, and access to fresh fruits or vegetables is limited, said Spring. Meanwhile, participation in traditional activities like gathering or hunting have been declining for decades in many communities, meaning they rely more on food from stores, he said. 

Climate change “makes a vulnerable situation even more precarious,” said Spring, as it causes disruptions in air travel or on long-used ice roads. 

Scott said the Inuvik greenhouse, which runs from April to September, can help put a dent in the grocery bill, but isn’t enough to truly reduce reliance on food from outside the territory. Instead, the greenhouse’s main focus is on education and community-building. 

These days, it’s not difficult to get the funds to start up a greenhouse in a remote community, said Spring, with lots of federal programs available for agriculture and climate adaptation.

In December 2022, the federal government announced $19.5 million in support for up to 79 new projects across the country related to food security in Indigenous, remote and Northern communities as part of the fourth phase of the Local Food Infrastructure Fund. Since 2019, it  has supported around 900 projects across the country, including greenhouses in remote and northern communities. 

It’s important that organizations helping to start up greenhouse and other agriculture projects work with the community, said Raygan Solotki, executive director of Green Iglu. The non-profit helps remote communities plan, build and run projects, specializing in geodesic dome greenhouses. 

“We’re not coming in on a horse, riding in with a greenhouse,” said Solotki. “We’re here to work with the community to make sure we are doing what the community wants.”

The biggest challenges often come once the greenhouse has been built, Spring said. Some communities have had more success than others building a sustainable long-term greenhouse or garden project, and it often revolves around having one person or a small group of people willing to commit to running it, he said.

“This community champion, who is passionate about it, and who has the kind of skills and the knowledge to do the work. And having those people stay in the community is often the challenge.”

Tom Henheffer, co-chief executive officer of the Arctic Research Foundation, also stressed the importance of building relationships with communities for projects to be successful. 

The foundation partnered with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, National Research Council Canada, the Canadian Space Agency and the community of Gjoa Haven, Nvt., on the Naurvik project, a community-led hydroponic food system that started in 2019. 

“A number of similar projects have failed and what differentiates this is really the people building it from the ground up with the community,” Henheffer said. 

The work in the greenhouse is done by local technicians and its location was chosen by elders, Henheffer said. He added community members know best which vegetables local people want to eat to pair with foods like caribou stew and Arctic char.

Betty Kogvik, one of the technicians at the greenhouse, said it’s important for the community.

“The cost of food or produce we get from the store is really high …  and when we finally receive them, some are already mouldy.” 

Kogvik said high food costs are especially challenging for elders and people reliant on social assistance. She’s proud that everything grown at the greenhouse goes to elders and children.

The main food sources in the community are hunting and fishing, Kogvik said, and people share what they have harvested with friends and family. 

Kogvik said she’d like to see the greenhouse project extended to other communities, adding it also provides employment opportunities. 

The Naurvik project’s system is made from three retrofitted shipping containers and primarily uses wind and solar power year-round. Many northern communities are reliant on diesel, which can be costly and produce harmful emissions. 

Conditions in Gjoa Haven, about 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, make it difficult to grow vegetables. Access to fresh produce in the community is limited and expensive, Henheffer said, with vegetables nearing expiration by the time they reach shelves. 

He said part of the project aims to replicate the system in other communities to increase access to fresh produce. The Canadian Space Agency is also interested in the technology to potentially grow food in space.

Hydroponics is a higher-tech way of indoor growing that doesn’t use soil, and is often used to grow herbs and leafy greens. Spring noted that in order to truly make a dent in food insecurity, northern growing projects need to be able to produce heartier vegetables that can be stored —  “things that go in stew” as opposed to “salad.” Because of this, he said he’s wary of high-tech solutions like hydroponics. 

But it all depends on what the community is looking for, he said, whether that’s a commercially viable greenhouse or a place to grow salad as an addition to the food available. 

“Anything helps,” he said. 

But the key to putting a dent in the food insecurity problem is “doing agriculture in a way that actually is the side dish to the traditional food system.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2023.

— With files from Rosa Saba in Toronto

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Alberta

Provinces should be cautious about cost-sharing agreements with Ottawa

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From the Fraser Institute

By Tegan Hill and Jake Fuss

According to Premier Danielle Smith, Alberta will withdraw from the federal government’s dental care plan by 2026 mainly because the plan would duplicate coverage already provided to many Albertans (although she plans to negotiate unconditional funding in lieu of being in the program). Indeed, all provinces should be wary of entering into such agreements as history has shown that Ottawa can reduce or eliminate funding at any time, leaving the provinces holding the bag.

In the 1990s, for instance, the federal government reduced health and social transfers to the provinces amid a fiscal crisis fuelled by decades of unrestrained spending and persistent deficits (and worsened by high interest rates). Gross federal debt increased from $38.9 billion in 1970/71 to $615.9 billion in 1993/94, at which point debt interest costs consumed roughly $1 in every $3 of federal government revenue.

In response to this debt crisis, the Chrétien Liberal government reduced spending across nearly all federal departments and programs. Over a three-year period to 1996/97, health and social transfers to the provinces were 51 per cent ($41.0 billion) less than what the provinces expected based on previous transfers. In other words, the provinces suddenly got a lot less money from Ottawa than they anticipated.

This should serve as a warning for the provinces who may find themselves on the hook for Ottawa’s big spending today. In the case of dental care, an area of provincial jurisdiction, the Trudeau government has earmarked $4.4 billion  annually for the provinces on an ongoing basis. However, any change in federal priorities or federal finances could swing the financial burden from Ottawa to the provinces to maintain the program.

The current state of federal finances only heightens this risk to the provinces. The federal government has run uninterrupted budget deficits since 2007/08, with total federal debt climbing from $707.3 billion in 2007/08 to a projected $2.1 trillion in 2024/25. The current government—or perhaps a future reform-minded government focused on balancing the budget—could reduce transfers to the provinces.

The Trudeau government has committed to significant new funding in areas of provincial jurisdiction, but provincial policymakers would do well to understand the risks of entering into such agreements. Ottawa can unilaterally reduce or eliminate funding at any point, leaving provinces to either assume the unexpected financial burden through higher taxes or additional borrowing, or curtail the programs.

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Alberta

Just in time for Canada Day weekend! Crescent Falls ready to be enjoyed again

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The new staircase structure and viewing platform are among many upgrades that visitors can look forward to at the reopening Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area. (Credit: Alberta Parks).

The popular Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area reopens following a significant capital investment to improve visitor safety and experiences.

Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area is ready to welcome visitors back to enjoy one of the most remarkable, accessible waterfall viewing opportunities in Alberta. The upgrades at Crescent Falls will help improve the park’s visitor experience. Guests can expect expanded parking, improved access roads, trails and day use areas, new and improved viewing areas to take in the falls and upgraded safety measures, including signage and wayfinding.

The Provincial Recreation Area (PRA) is reopening over the July long weekend after being closed since 2023. Visitors will notice increased public safety upgrades through additions such as new parking lots, a new stair structure to access the lower falls, new pedestrian trails, a new vehicle bridge to access the camping area and a viewing platform to enjoy the Crescent Falls.

“We are thrilled to welcome visitors back to Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area in time for the Canada Day long weekend. These additions will help visitors to safely access and enjoy the area’s natural beauty. Parks are for people and Alberta’s government will continue to invest in high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities.”

Todd Loewen, Minister of Forestry and Parks

“Today marks a significant milestone for our community as we reopen the Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area following extensive upgrades. Our province is well known for its incredible natural beauty, and these improvements will make our backcountry more accessible and ensure that Albertans and those visiting our great province can continue to explore our stunning landscapes for years to come.”

Jason Nixon, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
This project is part of an investment of more than $12 million to upgrade 13 sites along the David Thompson Corridor. The improvements at Crescent Falls will provide improved safety measures and better visitor access to and from popular tourist destinations in the area. Partners from Clearwater County, Rocky Mountain House and other organizations were critical in helping to move the upgrades forward. Clearwater County and its officials worked with Alberta Parks staff to advise on the upgrades needed around the area.

Alberta’s government is committed to reconciliation and acknowledges the significance of the land around Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. The completed upgrades reflect an ongoing commitment to creating more outdoor recreation opportunities while protecting the land’s natural and cultural values so it can be enjoyed by current and future generations.

“The Alberta Government’s reopening of Crescent Falls is a remarkable achievement for our region. This project not only enhances recreational opportunities, natural beauty and accessibility in our area but also means safer, more enjoyable visits for our citizens and visitors alike.”

Michelle Swanson, councillor, Clearwater County

“The Town of Rocky Mountain House is where adventure begins, and we are thrilled that Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area has reopened to the public in time for the summer adventure season. This is a wonderful day trip destination for visitors and residents alike setting out from Rocky Mountain House. The provincial investment has only improved its accessibility and safety, making it a must-see destination if you are in the area.”

Dale Shippelt, incoming deputy mayor, Rocky Mountain House

“Westward Bound Campgrounds is the proud facility operator of the Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation Area and we are very excited to see our campers and visitors return to its beauty. These upgrades will have a significant impact on enhancing guest satisfaction levels, providing unique and memorable camper and visitor experiences while providing a safe environment to enjoy spectacular scenery.”

Lonnie and Edena Earl, Westward Bound Campgrounds

This work is part of an ongoing commitment to creating more outdoor recreation and camping opportunities, building trails and facilities and ensuring Alberta’s provincial parks can be enjoyed by all Albertans.

Quick facts

  • The upgrades at Crescent Falls PRA include the following improvements:
    • Enlarging the existing parking area
    • Developing a new parking area for large RV vehicles
    • Upgrading the access roads down to the lower area
    • Installing a new pedestrian trail to the lower day use area
    • Installing a new vehicle crossing from the day use to the camping site
    • Upgrading and expanding the day use areas
    • Increasing signage
    • Installing additional toilets and bear-proof garbage bins
    • Developing a new stair structure to access the lower falls areas with a viewing platform
  • Enhancing safety features throughout the PRA. The upgrades were part of a significant capital investment of $12.3 million by Alberta’s government to address safety and experience opportunities in 13 key provincial recreation sites along the David Thompson Corridor. Along with Crescent Falls PRA, other sites that were upgraded include:
    • Bighorn Dam Recreation Area
    • The following 11 Public lands and parks sites:
    • Coliseum
    • Allstone
    • Abraham Slabs
    • Hoo Doo Creek
    • Coral Creek
    • Pinto Creek
    • Preachers Point
    • Cavalcade
    • Kinglet/Tuff Puff
    • Wildhorse
    • Owen Creek
  • Crescent Falls PRA is located 22 km west of Nordegg on Highway 11 and 6 km north on a gravel access road. Crescent Falls PRA has a first-come, first-served campground with 12 tent-only sites and 22 RV sites. The day use area includes multiple viewing platforms of the upper and lower falls and picnic tables with views of the river. Access to the lower day use area is available on a 0.8 km trail from the main parking area or, alternatively, from the Bighorn Canyon lookout via a 3 km trail. The lower day use area also has accessible-only parking stalls adjacent to the viewing platforms with an accessible vault toilet and picnic areas.

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