NFN moves toward food security with hydroponic greenhouses

L-R: Mike Harney (left) came out of retirement as the Economic Development Officer of NFN to oversee the installation of the new Mnodin Greenhouse. He is with Chief Scott McLeod and Business Operations Manager Geneviève Couchie, all looking forward to the first crop of lettuce in January.

Isabel Mosseler


Are you gasping yet at the price of lettuce? Is food security in the north something you think about? Nipissing First Nation has certainly been thinking about it, and now they are doing something about it too.

Indeed, NFN just received the three plug-and-play hydroponic trailers, featuring LED grow-lights and a complete automated water and nutrient system to produce crops 24/7, 365 days a year. They should have a fresh crop of greens ready for sale and distribution this coming January, as their new greenhouses will be up and running at Jocko Point in the coming days.

NFN received the Mnodin Greenhouse containerized units on November 9, installed in proximity to the Gen7 Fuels. On Friday, November 18, NFN Chief Scott McLeod, Business Operations Manager Geneviève “Gen” Couchie and Mike Harney, former NFN Economic Development Officer and Project Manager (retired), who spearheaded the project in 2016, conducted a brief media tour. “He’s the hardest working retired person I’ve ever seen,” Couchie said of Harney.

Harney was definitely proud of his baby, a vehicle to food sovereignty for Nipissing First Nation, and a boon to local restaurants and green grocers if all goes according to plan.  “It’s a turnkey operation,” he beamed. “We have never done this before so when we turn the key, there’s a lot of learning to do,” he laughed. “Way back when we had climate change starting, people were always complaining that stuff was coming from California or Mexico… [sometimes] there was e.coli on the lettuce… It seemed like a no-brainer to start growing our own food and not be so concerned about the other stuff; relying on others to give us green vegetables.”

Chief McLeod noted, “The other part of this is, it could be expanded. When we look at what’s happening in the north, when you’re paying $14-$15 for a head of lettuce, this could be a cheaper alternative… We could supply our sister first nations in the north with healthier, cheaper food sources.” In addition, explained Harney, “Once we get our act together here and learn how to operate this properly, we will offer training to other first nations coming in… That’s one of our goals.”

The commercial side will involve selling greens locally to make the project self-sufficient. “We have to make this sustainable. We don’t want to have it [continually] financed by chief and council. We have to sell enough to pay the bills and pay our employees… We need revenue, and revenue comes from selling to restaurants … For this unit if we just grew lettuce, we’d be able to grow 24-25,000 heads of lettuce a year. That’s a lot of lettuce,” Harney explained.

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