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From Growing North to Green Iglu

A domed panelled building in Nunavut

Photos: Day Job

It’s been four years since Ryerson alumni Stefany Nieto and Benjamin Canning first completed construction of a dome-shaped greenhouse in Naujaat, Nunavut. Their student-led Enactus Ryerson Growing North project sought to help address issues of food security in northern Canada through hydroponic growing technology.

The duo has since graduated from Ryerson, where they studied in the Ted Rogers School of Management, and their student project became a non-profit that is now on its way to becoming a full-fledged charity. Rebranded as Green Iglu, the scope and scale of the project has increased since the first greenhouse was built in 2015. There are now three domes operating in two Nunavut-based communities, along with education outreach in nine communities throughout Nunavut and Ontario, as well as a program in San Bernardino, California. There are soon to be two new domes in northeast Quebec.

The educational outreach program has the aim of both training local community members to work in the greenhouses and teaching high school students about topics such as horticulture and nutrition.

The technology has changed, too. The group has moved to fabricating their products in-house, and chief technology officer Canning says they’ve been able to add more technology options to the new greenhouses, including increased regulation and monitoring systems. The Green Iglu team works with the communities to determine what crops are grown and how the food is distributed.

He says the pair started the student project to learn and give back at the same time, only realizing at the end of their university years that what they’d built could keep going past graduation, a sentiment executive director Nieto agrees with.

A woman with a baby on her back standing on a shoreline in Canada's north during the evening

“It’s just gotten so big and neither of us expected it to amount to this,” she said.

As reported in Innovation in 2015, the team conducted research at the beginning of the project. After interviewing 10 per cent of the population, the students found that there was a resounding call for job creation and career experience opportunities for youth. This prompted the team to offer jobs to local people and create volunteering schemes in association with schools.

Green Iglu’s report of the six-month 2019 growing season says that over the last 12 months, they have taught more than 20 lessons across eight schools within North America. Community farmers produced their largest growing season to date, cultivating $10,428 (9,546 servings) worth of fresh and nutritious food for local community programs.

Ted Rogers School of Management professor Phil Walsh has been an advisor to the project since the early stages and is still on the Green Iglu board of directors. As a researcher, he is interested in the policies surrounding community-based sustainability projects and what practices need to be put in place to encourage their growth and development.  This will include expanding research into the use of distributed renewable energy technology to provide a more sustainable operation of Green Iglu’s growing domes on a year-round basis.

Support for Green Iglu is provided by Google, POLAR Nunavut – Government of Nunavut, the McConnell Foundation and Lush.