As we’ve mentioned, one of the largest issues facing food in Canada this year is the critical state of food insecurity in Nunavut.

In the past months, awareness has spread across the nation as Canadians slowly wake up to the severity of obstacles faced by Nunavummiut in reliably accessing healthy food.

The cost of food in stores recently rose so high that many people could not afford even the most basic goods in their fridges.Hopefully, the rest of us started to catch on, with headlines eliciting statements such as: “we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist anymore.”

The awareness and response from groups like Feeding My Family and Helping our Northern Neighbours have continued to point out the gravity of the situation, and generate donations.

Policy has been a focus, with the Nutrition North program – and MP Leona Aglukkak – coming under fire for critical flaws.

In addition to policy reform, corporate greed and economic growth are, of course, drivers of more reliable access. Some point to the economic plan for hope.

To be sure, there are many angles to this. If headlines tend to simplify problem, communities such as Helping our Northern Neighbours and Feeding My Family are very illustrative of the wide range of solutions being sought.

In far-reaching discussions from people dealing with these issues every day, it’s shown, for example, that traditional food (known as country food), can be similarly expensive compared to store food, not to mention complicated by geographical and generational gaps. While some initiatives are helping ease these problems, most agree that country food cannot be the only sustainable source of local food.

Yet amidst the range of issues being tested, debated, and discussed the most lively may be about local food production.

It’s also probably the least mediatized, which can lead to the illusion that it’s something completely untested. Many in Nunavut are thinking about different solutions. Some say that they’re tired of being asked, “What about greenhouses?” by distant folk, as some naive kind of panacea, as if no one had thought about it before.

A debate has arisen, yet there seems to be a consensus growing amongst community members that as a complementary approach, local food production has angles worth exploring.

$9 for three tomatoes. Photo by Karl Reid from Feeding My Family Facebook page.

Everyone is a bit skeptical. Growing vegetables in the Nunavut is hard. It’s been tried before, and has proven to be very expensive.

However growing vegetables in the Arctic is on the rise and the Nunavut Food Security Coalition highlights its relative importance, as one of the six themes to secure food in the region. An oft-neglected voice, the Coalition is the product of extensive public consultation on poverty in Nunavut, the partnership of Inuit organizations, government, non-profits and more.

“Local food production can help increase food security and self-reliance,” they conclude. Planned activities include empowering people (against many barriers), helping them start their own local growing initiatives adapting other creative projects in northern communities, and supporting research on local food production and finding new ways to make it financially viable. They even propose a 5-year plan.

Some point to existing initiatives that could be developed further, partnered with, or adapted as models. Examples include the greenhouse at Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, the Iqaluit Greenhouse (a reused hockey arena) and the Arviat Greenhouse Project.

If nothing else, the conversation on groups such as Feeding My Family shows what we can all learn about self-sufficient methods. The extreme growing conditions in the Arctic have put the spotlight on the most creative methods, such as:

  • Biodome greenhouses that can withstand extreme weather
  • Grow boxes, as seen in the Arviat project
  • Underground greenhouses – or walipinis. Given the permafrost, this is one of the most ambitious methods. Some insist they are feasible. Others have suggested enhancing their heat retention with chickens.
  • Grow barrels and growing in old fridges, which involve much less
  • Sprouting at home
  • Expanding arctic animal husbandry, example: muskox.

Even if this only touches on one-sixth (or less) of a complex picture, there is some lively discussions going on that warrant our attention. As a country, our sources of food are becoming less secure. Sharing the newest and most effective ways to be self-sufficient behooves us all.

 In the winter, I decided to (finally) commit to learning about urban homesteading and what some term radical home economics. Urban homesteading is a movement, a paradigm shift, that is based on principles of DIY, sustainability, environmental awareness, eating homegrown food and self-reliance within urban settings.

urban homesteadingIt was time for me to go beyond casual interest and the quick reading of blogs and start digging my hands into things. Literally. I began by gathering a few books considered essential reading on the homesteading blog circuit and got thinking about which projects I wanted to start with. Two of my favourite books are The Urban Homstead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World. In this preliminary phase it became quite clear to me that I was going to face one major problem in terms of my urban homesteading endeavors: I don’t have a backyard or a front yard. Most blogs and books seem to have access to some land as an a priori condition as well as living in an area where keeping chickens is possible (and/or ambiguously legal which is unfortunately, although perhaps understandably, not the case in Montreal).

Underlying the very principle of urban homesteading is the spirit of resourcefulness and looking for creative solutions: a development of self-sufficiency (although I like to think that this incorporates a community building/networking element). Therefore, here are some of the solutions I have turned to in the infant stages of my urban homesteading. I thought I would share them for those of you looking to build an infrastructure for your own homesteading endeavours.

homesteading Growing Plants in Different Spaces

If you have the room, you can set up an indoor greenhouse with growing lights and shelving units. This is part of my plan for later on, but I don’t currently have the space. I do have a few large windowsills and have grown seedlings there. I’ve included here a small photo of my terrarium or, as I like to call it, my mini greenhouse. These are practical for growing herb gardens indoors as well as keeping furry friends out of your seedlings. Also, balcony gardens are a fun project for landless folk. In her book Grow Great Grub, Gayla Trail blogger of discusses how to grow food in small spaces. Like balcony gardens, vertical gardens are also an innovative way to deal with the lack of space and can be made out of a variety of material including recycled pop bottles.

homesteadingCSA Basket + Food Coops

Lack of space undoubtedly results in limiting what a budding homesteader can produce for themselves. A couple solutions I have turned to to compliment my homegrown foods is to join a local food cooperative (photo is the Concordia students food cooperative). Food cooperatives operate slightly differently by coop, but they usually offer natural organic food and products, have ties with local farms and producers and are a great way to meet other (and potential) homesteaders and DIY-ers.

The other great way to supplement your food production and especially during the winter provide you with fresh tasty fruits and veggies is to sign up for Community Supported Agriculture baskets or CSA’s. CSA’s are a great way to get to know local food producers, growing seasons, and community ogranizations. The funnest part about CSAs is that they come in many varieties depending on the season and/or the producers. Some of the CSAs I have been trying out are: Lufa Farms, Santropol Roulant, and the McGill Farmers Market. Think about what you will be growing and look at what different baskets have to offer, their mandates and missions, their methods(hydroponic, rooftop, student-run, cooperative, family-owned, etc). There are CSA- like options that include exotic fruits as well like Bonne Boite Bonne Bouffe. There also exist CSAs for local organic meat products, but I have yet to try those out and have been relying on local markets like Jean-Talon and Atwater market to find those meats.

Having a CSA basket, as I have been learning, can mean having a shortage of a certain vegetable you might want and/or a surplus of veggies you have no idea what to do with. Take on the challenge and find new innovative ways to use your veggies and discover new dishes. Also, this is a good way to start experimenting with food storage methods and learn about how food reacts to its environment. My first adventure with my CSA basket led me to experiment with pickling, something I’d never done before. I found myself a pickling mentor and have since launched on a pickling journey, which is coming up in future posts.

Photo courtesy HowStuffWorks.comCompost

Urban homesteading is about sustainability and so now we gotta talk compost! Without any land, composting becomes somewhat of an issue. There are three solutions that I considered to solve this problem. Since food waste can easily be turned into fertilizer, this is an important element to consider for growing food. First, look into your eco-quartier and see if they have any composting locations and/or pick up. Second, consider vermicomposting, which can be real fun for kids and educational as well. Third, look into projects like Compost Montreal which offers a pick up service and redistributes the fertilizer to clients for a fee. Without land, consider giving extra fertilizer to friends and/or community gardens.

Sharing Green Spaces

Last but not least, look into joining a community garden and/or ask friends who do have land if you can share some of the space in return for providing them with fresh vegetables and good company. Making networks and connections, in my opinion, are great ways to begin an urban homesteading journey. Don’t be afraid to try different options and formats and don’t get discouraged if, at first, things aren’t exactly the way you want them to be.


Feature image courtesy of