Brandon Students Aim to Grow Fresh Food in the North

Greenhouse project testing for northern Manitoba

Assiniboine Community College (ACC) is charting new territory in Manitoba's horticulture industry. By experimenting with different greenhouse models, they are working on a solution to the lack of fresh produce in northern Manitoba. They are also training a new generation of horticulture experts who will put down roots in the province.
gf2-newsletter03-brandon-students-aim-to-grow-fresh-food-in-the-north_01.jpgStudents test the quality, size and quantity of the tomatoes grown in three greenhouse models at ACC

Greenhouses — a potential solution

Many northern households — including First Nations communities – have limited access to fresh produce. And when they do get access, it's often quite expensive.
ACC is running a research and extension project that compares the performance of three greenhouse models:
  • a low-tech that relies primarily on passive solar heat
  • a medium-tech that is heated by passive solar and glycol-filled solar thermal collectors
  • a conventional, industry standard greenhouse
The program was started with funding from Growing Forward and continues to be supported through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative that supports agricultural projects and research.
Students work on research projects in the greenhouses as part of the Horticulture Production certificate program. They test the quality, size and quantity of produce in each greenhouse and collect information that will help Manitoba communities choose the best greenhouse models for their areas.
Andrew Nicols, an ACC student, tends to tomato plants as part of the college's Horticulture Production certificate program.
Manitoba producers, communities and other stakeholders are watching the study closely. They hope to use the research from the campus to build sustainable greenhouses that northern food producers can use to grow fresh food cost effectively.
"Our students are really excited about the program," says Keith Williams, chair of agriculture and environment at ACC. "Many of them are interested in working in the North after they graduate. We're one of the first institutions to do a study like this — that will benefit northern communities."

Field to fork

Williams explains that a unique aspect of the ACC program is its work with culinary arts and agribusiness students. The partnership is referred to as Field to Fork and has the potential to expand to more program areas. The concept incorporates the value chain from food production to consumption," says Williams.
During a tomato variety trial, for example, students can test yield, disease resistance and growing capabilities in the greenhouses. They then pass the produce on to the culinary arts students who test the different varieties for taste and suitability in a range of recipes.

Student findings — benefit Manitoba producers

Because the greenhouses were only built at the beginning of 2013, the findings are still preliminary. However, students are making interesting discoveries about which plants grow best under certain conditions and are beginning to think of practical applications for their research. They will track the energy input into each greenhouse and its production. They will then be able to show northern communities how much it would cost to grow their own produce.
Anthony Mintenko, fruit crops business development specialist, and Tom Gonsalves, vegetable crops business development specialist, with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development's Crops Knowledge Centre act as liaisons between Manitoba's fruit and vegetable industries and the students.
"The work they're doing in the program is Manitoba based research that will benefit our fruit and vegetable producers and improve the horticulture industry as a whole," Mintenko says. "Prior to this program starting at ACC, we had a lack of horticulture research expertise in Manitoba."
Mintenko helps the college choose research programs that will directly benefit the industry, then spreads word of the results to producers.
"The students enrolled in the program will expand the employment base for workers in Manitoba's horticulture industry," he says. "Many will move on to start their own businesses and continue to learn and add to our knowledge."
ACC plans to expand its horticulture programs with a new, advanced diploma in Sustainable Food Systems starting in September 2014. The program will emphasize innovation in food production and management with a focus on ensuring broader, more economical access to healthy food.

Funding for innovative projects

Growing Innovation, a Growing Forward 2 program helps fund activities directed at research and on-farm innovation by providing financial support for state-of-the-art organizations and agencies that conduct innovation-driven projects. Email us today to find out more about this program. 


Sign up today for Growing News

Get this featured article and other Growing Forward 2 program updates by email.

Subscribe to the Growing News newsletter today.