Ryerson students, Nunavut hamlet team up on food insecurity

A small group of Ryerson business students are teaming up with Repulse Bay, Nunavut, to build a geodesic greenhouse dome that's set to provide produce at half the grocery store price.

Greenhouse project set to cut price of produce in half

University students Alif Ruhul, Ambreen Khan, Stefany Nieto, Ben Canning (left to right) did research at an Ontario greenhouse while they were developing the Growing North project. This summer, the students will help build a greenhouse in Repulse Bay, Nunavut. (Submitted by Enactus Ryerson)

Starting next summer, residents of Repulse Bay, Nunavut, could have a lot more fresh produce and a little more cash in their pockets, thanks to a group of industrious business students from Toronto's Ryerson University.

Back in 2013, Stefany Nieto and Ben Canning came up with the big idea --- create a geodesic greenhouse dome in partnership with the remote Nunavut community of about 750 people.

"The food security issue across northern Canada is atrocious," said Canning, who is one of the leaders of the Growing North project, "and it's only in the last six months that we've seen a public uproar."

Last year's scathing Auditor General's report about the controversial Nutrition North program has brought national attention to the issue, with shockingly-high grocery store prices papering social media pages and communities across the country launching grassroots campaigns to send food to ailing Nunavut hamlets.

With a nearly 13-metre-wide geodesic greenhouse dome, Canning says Repulse Bay will lessen the stress on families, by producing more than 5400 kilograms of fresh produce during a six-month growing season each summer.

"[Repulse Bay residents] told us stories about not being to feed their families, not being able to afford to feed their families and going days without eating because of lack of food within the community or accessibility." said Nieto, who visited Repulse Bay, soon to be officially renamed Naujaat, with Canning last year.

"Across the board we can reduce prices by a minimum of 50 per cent, providing up to a quarter, or 25 per cent, of all the year's produce," said Canning.

He's negotiating an agreement to sell the produce through the local co-op grocery store.

If the greenhouse makes a profit, the extra money will be re-invested into the community through micro-loans for local entrepreneurs and bursaries for high school students who will work in the greenhouse.

'We turn ideas into reality'

Not counting the land donated by the hamlet or the free labour, the Growing North project will clock in at more than $150,000.

"A lot of people looked at us and said, how are university students going to raise $159,000?" said Stefany Nieto, who leads Enactus Ryerson, the local chapter of an international NGO that aims to help solve social issues using entrepreneurship.

Even Nieto wasn't totally convinced that she and her teammates would reach that lofty goal, "but we stuck true to our slogan --- we turn ideas into reality."

After months of drumming up funds through corporate sponsorships, online fundraising and funding through the university, Nieto hopes to raise the last $14,000 in the next few weeks.

Next month, the students hope to ship up parts to build the geodesic dome and have it finished by the end of September.

One way Enactus Ryerson is hoping to pass along their love of entrepreneurship is through educational modules set up through the local high school. Every class will learn about the process of growing their food by working in the greenhouse once a week.

"We really want to inspire people to take control over themselves and their own actions to do what they think is right and to do what they can to better their situation," says Canning.

"We've seen tremendous strength from all the people up there."

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