Squamish Nation makes plans for food security with hydroponic farm
A large bright orange container has just landed in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) community of X̱wemelch’stn in North Vancouver.
While the exterior of the 40ft container is quite striking, it’s what’s inside that matters.
The Container is a Modular Hydroponic Growcer Farm that will support the welfare of the community by allowing them to grow fresh produce year round, including leafy greens, herbs and traditional medicinal plants.
Creating a sustainable source of healthy produce and increasing food sovereignty has long been a goal of the Squamish Nation, and the hydroponic farm is another piece of the puzzle, said Kelley McReynolds, director of Ayás Children and Family Services. Méńmen of the Squamish Nation.
“This is part of the reason why we started looking for ways to [provide food] was working from our values as a Squamish people and our values around sharing food, ”she said.
“Traditionally, as a community and as families, we would go hunting and we would gather on the land and the water and bring it back to our community and people only took what they needed, and the rest of that. -this would be shared.
With the launch of a food distribution program around four years ago, McReynolds said the team has started to break down the stigmas and fears surrounding food insecurity and return to their traditional ways, to s’ ensure that everyone in the community felt comfortable receiving food.
“We didn’t want to see food as a form of charity, or only for those who don’t have food,” she said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, McReynolds said food safety concerns increased for some members and the team began to think more outside the box on how they might cope with the future food shortage.
It was then that the idea of the hydroponic farm germinated.
Squamish Nation has looked at more traditional styles of farming and also has 19 garden boxes set up outside her office where she grows fruits and vegetables and a traditional medicine garden.
“We plant every year and we harvest this to give to the community,” McReynolds said. “We do a lot of training with our youth and families to help them understand plants, gardening and harvesting.
She said that one thought they had always had was, “Think about what we could do if we had farmland, we could feed so many more people.”
“But, you know, we live in a city and you don’t have access to that kind of open space,” McReynolds said.
“So when we looked at this hydroponic farm option and saw that it was the size of a shipping container, we thought, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ It comes with all the gear you need inside. And, you can set it up and within five to six weeks you are ready to do your first harvest and it gives about 450 heads of produce per week. It’s a lot.
“We were like, ‘wow, this is amazing.'”
This week Ayás Méńmen presents a new hydroponic container farm @the_growcer that will provide sustainable local produce all year round to our community. pic.twitter.com/jViEsfzEdK— Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw | Squamish Nation (@SquamishNation)
The founders of the ingenious tech and social enterprise came up with the idea based on their firsthand experience of food insecurity in Nunavut in 2015 and wanted to create a system that allowed communities to grow fresh produce at all times, not anywhere, in any climate.
The growing technology was first deployed in remote and food insecure communities, but has since expanded to become partnerships with schools, nonprofits, and non-remote communities that see the interest in growing food locally – like Squamish Nation.
Electronically managed hydroponic farms cost around $ 180,000 to set up and will produce fresh food for around 30 years, according to Growcer.
Hydroponics is a soilless growing method that uses nutrient-rich water to grow plants using less space, time, and growing inputs.
“Modular farms are automated to provide full control of the environment,” the Growcer website states, adding that plant growth factors such as light, nutrients, temperature, humidity, carbon and water are monitored in real time.
Once set up, a range of 140 leafy green plants can be grown in as little as six weeks.
“Everything is new to us,” McReynolds said, adding that Growcer would train staff this week and continue to provide support throughout their hydroponics journey.
“We are all very excited.”
The products of the new farm will be shared with the families served by Ayás Méńmen, the youth center and the future community kitchen Smeḵw’ú7ts (food sharing) and the S7ílhen pantry (food), which should be operational from here. summer.
“We will continue to do monthly food distributions, but we will also have food on our shelves and in freezers for all of our members who are in need… whatever the situation,” said McReynolds.
The hope for Community Kitchen is to build a healthy community by providing a safe place for members to learn and improve their food preparation and cooking skills through workshops, which can begin on Zoom during the pandemic. Ayás Méńmen also plans to run a six-week program for community members to get together once a week to cook and bring a meal home for their families.
“I think what turns me on about this is that we’re relationship people,” McReynolds said. “Being able to come together and learn, share, grow, laugh and tell stories is so healthy and therapeutic and it brings joy to your heart to be able to be together.”
While there is still a bit of work to be done before the hydroponic farm begins producing the goods, McReynolds has other big plans.
“I have this vision of us being able to have a Friday night or Saturday afternoon market where we can have the fresh produce, we can have music, we can maybe have food trucks and we can come together, ”she said.
“I just think it’s just a great opportunity for us to celebrate who we are as Squamish and come together as a community.