Vegetable upstart in Norway House beginning to sprout

A hydroponic garden project by Norway House Cree Nation called Life Water Gardens is finally selling its vegetables this month since the project started one year ago.

Life Water Gardens provides fresh and uncontaminated produce every week that will be sold affordably and delivered to the community’s grocery store without any shipping cost.

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Norway House Chief Larson Anderson said it is hard to get fresh produce into northern Manitoba.

“With this program, we are able to provide community members with fresh food,” he said on Wednesday. “As most people know, we have severe health issues in the north and having a healthy diet is important to us.”

Norway House spent a year providing free vegetables to businesses and different organizations within the community before selling their produce at their local store.

Anderson added that the project is a springboard to an initiative that the council is working on.

“The initiative is to provide greenhouses for up to 50 families to raise their interest and get them to grow crops, vegetables and even flowers. We have already designed the greenhouses for individual homes,” he said.

Life Water Gardens co-manager Ian Maxwell said that every week, 450 plants come out of their container to be sold.

“The produce consists of wildfire, butterhead and romaine lettuce, kale, bok choy, spinach, parsley, cilantro, basil and mint,” he said.

“We have 1,800 planting slots in our grow room right now and they can grow up to 140 variety of produce. If someone doesn’t like a certain kind of vegetable, we can adjust that and try to find a product that works.”

The hydroponic garden uses the latest technology that controls water-level flow, filtration, lighting, temperature, humidity, nutrient, PH level, airflow and carbon dioxide level of the room.

Maxwell said the project is important because fresh produce is often not available to the community.

“The shipping cost for fresh produce is huge and almost unaffordable. The project allows the local grocery store to sell fresh vegetables that have not been travelling in a truck and sitting in a warehouse for two weeks,” he said.

“The plants we provide almost do not look real because it is that perfect. There is just no comparison and they even last an extra week in the refrigerator as well.”

Life Water Gardens co-manager Virginia Muswagon said that the community is still getting used to using the fresh produce.

“In the beginning, many people did not recognize some of the products that were offered. When we were handing out the free produce, we distributed some recipes so they know how to use them,” she said.

“For example, no one knew how to use bok choy except that they could get it in a Chinese restaurant but it can be easily used and added to their cooking. We have posted some recipes on our Instagram and Facebook page so people know how to use these different types of produce.”

The program is an initiative between the First Nation, the Manitoba government and BDO.

Nicole Wong covers northern and Indigenous issues for the Winnipeg Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.

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