Plant Factory pilot project brings fresh vegetables to The Pas

A vehicle full of Korean businessmen who got stuck on the muddy roads of northern Manitoba have sprouted a relationship that's bringing fresh vegetables to the First Nation that helped them out.

Opaskwayak Cree Nation gets year-round produce with Plant Factory pilot project

The Plant Factory is a closed growing system that uses LED lights and controls moisture and carbon dioxide to raise different plants all year round. (Glen Ross/Submitted to CBC)

People on Opaskwayak Cree Nation are enjoying crunchy, fresh lettuce, but the vegetables' journey to the Manitoba community started with a group of businessmen getting stuck in the mud.

OCN economic development officer Glen Ross said the businessmen from Korea were near The Pas to bid on some hydro projects when their vehicle got trapped.

"They were in the area and they were stuck out in the bush. We were able to start contact with them through that episode," Ross said.

I think it would be a godsend to many communities that are not able to access fruits and vegetables, and especially in the winter.- Glen Ross, OCN economic development officer

They started talking about what business relationships could be fostered between the community and different South Korean businesses. Ross said access to fresh produce became the clear answer.

Since that fateful meeting, OCN has started a pilot project called the Plant Factory, a closed growing system that uses LED lights and controls moisture and carbon dioxide to grow different plants all year round.

"It's not like a traditional greenhouse. There is no real heat emissions or no humidity issues," Ross said. "The science I guess is in the lights. The science is also in the computers that are involved."

OCN started growing the vegetables at the end of 2015, and they've already seen how important it could be for other Indigenous communities, Ross said.

"I think it's super critical. I think it would be a godsend to many communities that are not able to access fruits and vegetables, and especially in the winter," he said.

The system also costs a fraction of the price of a greenhouse, with equipment expenses between $70,000 and $80,000, Ross said.

As for the original meeting in the mud, OCN has built a very fruitful relationship with the businessmen, he said.

"They know the area a lot better, that's for sure."