Hydroponic pilot project plants seed for Kuujjuaq-grown produce

Inside a shipping container, hundreds of heads of lettuce and plants like mountain sorrel are growing using hydroponics.

Fresh produce goes from Makivik-owned container to local grocery store

This shipping container owned by Makivik has hydroponics inside. A similar container has been operating in Churchill, Man. since the beginning of 2017. (Makivik)

It looks like a sea can, but you won't find any produce inside.

Instead this 40-foot container is growing hundreds of heads of lettuce and plants like mountain sorrel using hydroponics.

Makivik says the garden is a pilot project to improve food security and grow produce year-round.

The hydroponics container can grow hundreds of plants at once. They can grow any time of the year thanks to LED lights and water with added nutrients. (Makivik)

The container was purchased by Nunavik Inuit organization, Makivik, with $350,000 from Quebec's Société Plan Nord.

The project is expected to reduce some of the reliance on vegetables flown from the South, according to Andy Moorhouse, vice-president of economic development for Makivik.

"This is an opportunity to grow within your community and not have to order from the South where there's a lot of handling, a lot of costs in transportation, especially during the winter," he said.

Hydroponics use water, nutrients, LED lights and a temperature-controlled room to grow plants in any condition.

Seeds for lettuce and mountain sorrel are planted every week so that by mid-January there will be a rotating harvest. (Makivik)

Every Friday, James Dumont plants a new batch of seeds. He is responsible for the hydroponics, and he's a manager at the local supermarket Newviq'vi. Planting began at the end of November. Hundreds of plants, including spinach, bok choy and herbs are germinating.

The hydroponic system is mostly automated, but Dumont checks the pumps to make sure the water is running and the container is heated between 18 and 21 C.

"I'm pretty excited to see the project get bigger," said Dumont. "There will be more nutritious value in the vegetable because it's not being transported."

The first batch of lettuce and mountain sorrel (qungulik in Inuktitut) will be in stores in mid-January. Thirty percent of the harvests will be donated to elders and daycares.

Makivik was inspired by a hydroponic container in Churchill, Man., which has been harvesting produce for a year. The container is operated by Ottawa-based company The Growcer.

Kuujjuaq's hydroponic container is the first of its kind for Inuit Nunangat. If the project is commercially viable by 2020, Makivik says similar containers could be brought to other Nunavik communities.