Inside a greenhouse at Rupert Lawn and Garden, Morgan Sage, a project coordinator with Ecotrust Canada’s Innovation Lab, is working with the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society to grow edible plants to members and Prince Rupert residents. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Growing veggies for Nisga’a members in Prince Rupert

Ecotrust Canada’s Morgan Sage is experimenting with local food access on the North Coast

Imagine eating fresh tomatoes, lettuce, carrots and eggplants grown just off the rocky shores of Kaien Island — in a greenhouse of course.

Fresh, locally grown produce is exactly what the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society intends to offer its members by sampling a pilot project borne out of Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab.

Morgan Sage, a master’s of geography student from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, is doing an internship with Ecotrust Canada as the project coordinator.

“I’m from a tiny little farming community in the middle of nowhere,” Sage said, from inside one of the greenhouses at Rupert Lawn and Garden, a business venture owned and operated by the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society.

READ MORE: Growing economic and social projects in a North Coast lab

She’s been given a dedicated space to grow fresh veggies for members, and to sell the rest to residents to cover the costs.

The seeds for the project were laid 3-4 years ago, said CEO of the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society, Blair Mirau, but due to staffing capacity it never took root.

“We know it’s a need. We’ve seen a lot of data about how a lot of our members are food insecure or at risk of being food insecure. Many aren’t getting three full meals a day or getting fresh foods because of the price,” Mirau said.

In a 2018 report, the BC Centre for Disease Control found the monthly cost of providing nutritious food for a family of four living in the northwest is an average $1,184.

For families and people who live on a fixed income, or on social assistance, being able to afford fresh food is a struggle.

“Other than housing affordablity this was one of our number one priorities in addressing our members’ needs,” Mirau said.

The Nisga’a Society learned about the work the North Coast Innovation Lab was doing to trial projects to encourage social enterprises and social service initiatives. After forming a partnership with Ecotrust, Sage arrived in Prince Rupert and got straight to work.

Sage’s expertise stems from her background in rural and agricultural development at the University of Guelph, she spent two years working on an organic farm and her current studies involve digging into local food access and food insecurity.

Planting began as soon as the seeds arrived in mid-March, and she expects the lettuce to be ready between 30-40 days, the tomatoes will be ready some time in June.

Choosing what to plant was based on figuring out what people like to eat on the North Coast, and what grows well in greenhouses. She’s not sure how well the eggplants will go over once they’re ready, but it’s also all about experimenting.

READ MORE: North Coast Innovation Lab granted $100,000

“I really hope that at least having fresh access to fruits and vegetables will get people talking about local food a little bit more in the city,” she said.

Currently the only way to get fresh produce in the city, other than at the grocery store, is if residents plant their own gardens, or if they set up a plot at one of the two community gardens on Overlook and Mckay Street.

If this pilot project goes well, the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society will determine if Rupert Lawn and Garden will accommodate a dedicated space for growing fresh vegetables in the future.

“Once we figure out our capacity for growing then we’ll look at do we get into retail, do we get into food boxes, or some other kind of distribution model. We will have a firmer idea by the end of the summer,” Mirau said.

READ MORE: Planting party for North Coast community garden


Shannon Lough | Editor
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