October 1, 2004

Plans drawn for Iqaluit greenhouse

Fundraising for $4 million garden starts now


On Sept. 1, the Iqaluit Community Greenhouse Society had a scant $1,232 in the bank, but the group is getting ready to move onto the next phase of its grassroots gardening project: fund-raising for the $3,891,800 that it will take to build a giant greenhouse and community centre.

"It's hard to tell how long it's going to take," says John Lamb, a member of the group since its inception in 2001. "The working premise is a year of good, hard work."

The society spent the last year working on a feasibility study for the project, and then translating that into a business plan for potential donors or granting agencies.

The vision is grand. Architectural drawings show a greenhouse that covers 11,000 square feet. Four-foot by eight-foot plots will serve 150 gardeners. Space will be made for a composting room and tool shed.

Attached to the glass house will be a two-story community centre, including a café, an exhibition room, a classroom, a lounge, a meeting area, a performance stage and a retail area that could be used to sell arts and crafts, gardening equipment, or garden produce.

Community buy-in will be essential to the project, as the group hopes to pay for maintenance costs — estimated to be around $420,000 per year — by renting space in the community centre to local groups, and through private donations.

The society now has 90 members, and recently gained 30 more at the mass registration held at the Arctic Winter Games complex on Sept. 11.

The City of Iqaluit also likes the idea. City council passed a resolution offering its "support in principle and administrative support in-kind" in June, 2001.

Last year, the Department of Sustainable Development gave the society $25,000.

Since the cabinet reorganization, the society has met with people from Nunavut's department of economic development and transportation.

That department supports the project, Lamb told society members at the annual general meeting held at the Sylvia Grinnell Pavilion on Saturday, because it presents an opportunity to access funds from federal granting agencies that would not otherwise apply to Nunavut, such as the federal Department of Agriculture.

Research grants may also be available for greenhouse technology or Arctic gardening projects.

The greenhouse is inspired by a similar project in Inuvik, where residents have been growing fruits, vegetables and flowers in a community greenhouse for the past five years, but there are some unique challenges in Iqaluit.

The Inuvik project was the result of renovating an old rink that was to be demolished. In Iqaluit, the project will start from scratch.

The Inuvik project is open for business from May to October each year and closed during winter.

The Iqaluit Community Greenhouse Society wants to house plants growing year round. In the winter, the greenhouse could be kept at a cooler temperature during the winter and still sustain some cool weather plants, such as parsnips or carrots. Germinating and potting rooms will be heated year round.

Location, location, location...

One issue yet to overcome is where to put the greenhouse.

The original aim of the society was to build in the plateau area — where the City of Iqaluit is planning a new subdivision — near the power plant. An added benefit would be the opportunity to channel waste heat from the plant into the greenhouse.

But that plan puts the greenhouse out of walking range for many Iqalungmiut.

The City of Iqaluit encouraged the society to make a bid for a new property available at the Four Corners, where the air base garage is now located.

The community project would act as a magnet for people and help to beautify the downtown core with its exterior landscaping that will include indigenous plant species such as purple saxifrage, Labrador tea and ground juniper.

The society, however, was dismayed to learn that the property available included only the land under the air base garage, and did not incorporate the slivers of land on either side that now house the Arctic College Fine Arts building and the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association.

A bid to expand the property available in order to create a larger public space was denied by the city. The greenhouse society is now looking at alternative sites.