Yellowknife Co-op to sell homegrown greens

The grocery store is growing leafy greens and herbs in a hydroponic greenhouse made out of an upgraded shipping container.

Grocery store recently installed a hydroponic greenhouse on its property made out of a converted sea can

Seeds are growing in trays inside the greenhouse growing room. The Yellowknife Co-op hopes to begin selling its hydroponic greens in April. (Submitted by Yellowknife Co-op)

Yellowknife residents could be munching on locally-grown greens as soon as next month.

The Yellowknife Co-op recently installed a hydroponic greenhouse on its property. Its general manager hopes to start selling homegrown leafy greens and fresh herbs in four to six weeks time.

"We've had requests for years and years and years here about selling local produce or Canadian produce," said manager Justin Nelson.

"There was an opportunity to get involved in a hydroponic greenhouse, so we decided to do an investment in it. We just want to provide to our members some locally-grown produce."

We've had requests for years and years and years here about selling local produce.- Justin Nelson, manager

Hydroponics are systems for growing plants in water— without soil. The co-op's food is growing in a greenhouse made out of an upgraded shipping container from Ottawa-based company The Growcer.

The Growcer's greenhouses use water enriched with nutrients, an artificial light source and carbon dioxide to grow plants "as quickly as possible," said Corey Ellis, a company co-founder. He said the greenhouses can grow seeds into full plants in about six weeks.

The greenhouse, from Ottawa-based company The Growcer, is made out of an upgraded shipping container and is meant for use in cold climates. (Submitted by Yellowknife Co-op)

The sea cans are outfitted to keep plants growing when outside temperatures drop as low as -52 C. Ellis said the greenhouses use about as much electricity as an air conditioner that's running 24/7.

He said the Yellowknife Co-op should be able to stock its vegetables the same day they are harvested, "which is pretty unique and I think something [customers] will really appreciate."

The Yellowknife Co-op's sea can greenhouse isn't the first in the North. Ellis said his company has installed them in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and Kuujjuaq, Que., as well.

Right now, the Co-op is growing kale, spinach and bok choi, as well as a variety of lettuces and herbs.

Nelson said the plants are pesticide-free and when harvested, are expected to be fresher and last longer than their counterparts trucked up from the South.

If all goes well, he said, the store will harvest about 400 plants a week.

A close-up of the seed trays. The Yellowknife Co-op's hydroponic greenhouse doesn't use soil or pesticides. (Submitted by Yellowknife Co-op)

Curious Yellowknife Co-op shoppers will be able to watch the in-house farming live.

Cameras have been set up in the greenhouse and the plan is to broadcast a livestream onto a large-screen TV set up in the produce department, said Nelson.

Nelson said the idea is not to produce a cheaper vegetable.

"Power and heat up here isn't cheap, so this isn't something to subsidize produce here," he said. "Produce is cheap, it's no different than other locations in the South."

The hope is to make a profit off the home-grown greens, said Nelson, and then return those profits to co-op members.

Though he declined to talk about how much the greenhouse costs, Nelson did say he is "feeling pretty cool" and "pretty happy" about the operation.


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