84% of our communities do not have a full service grocery store, so their access to healthy food, like veggies and fruits, is limited to what’s available in local corner stores. And we only grow 10% of the vegetables and fruits we eat here, so relying on imports for the other 90% jacks up the cost of food for us, and jacks down how fresh and desirable our produce is when it arrives here. As well, where we used to have thousands of farms in the province, we now have hundreds.
Bennett Newhook, a 20 year old student at Memorial University, and the rest of his team at Greenspace Urban Farms (Justin Elliott, a 3rd year Civil Engineering student, and Sonya Killam, 2nd year Commerce Student) are doing something about it. They’re putting farms in container boxes and sending them to where they’re needed.
The idea has already won Memorial University’s Feeding Nine Billion Challenge in 2017, and this May its back in the spotlight again, having won the St. John’s Social Innovation Challenge 2018.
Social Innovation Challenges are gatherings that inspire local social innovators to collaborate and launch and ideas. Wining the top prize has garnered them $1,500 cash and $2,000 in business support for market research and product development.
Bennett describes their project as “a small box on a mission: To provide fresh food to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.” To do so, he equips rural communities with a farm in a container box. Literally.
“The system in the box is completely customizable to the needs of the group that we are working with. This can be anything from hydroponics and soil-based systems, and everything in between. They can be operated as anything from year-round community gardens to commercial-scale farms.”
He says they try to utilize any post-consumer materials they can, to lower our environmental impact. The containers themselves come from corporate donors for the community groups they’re working with. “Through donations of materials to these groups, we can lower the costs of the systems and make urban farming an accessible alternative to anyone.”
For Bennett he was inspired largely by the cost of food in rural communities: if you thought we had it bad in St. John’s that time Cauliflowers cost eight bucks a head, he’s spent time in Labrador where things were far more worrying. it’s no wonder our province leads the country in food bank usage.
“The idea was developed through collaboration within the Greenspace team last year,” Bennett explains. “I had worked in Labrador for an engineering work term, and it became apparent that the state of food security there was at an unsustainable level, where many people could not afford the fresh food that they need.”
“The team worked together to develop the idea and won the Feeding 9 Billion Challenge in November of 2017. We have been working since then to create a sustainable and low-cost solution to this issue.”
Greenspace’s 20-foot farm-in-a-box can employ upwards of 3 people, he’s said. As for the destination of the inaugural unit, Bennett says, “We are currently working on a project with the town of Baie Verte and industry stakeholders in that region. We are anticipating that the first Greenspace system should be providing fresh and local food to the Baie Verte area within the next few months.”
The Greensapce team can be reached through the Contact Us section of their website, greenspaceurbanfarms.com