Non-profit grows opportunities for sustainable food

Jessica Lee, Cochrane Today, Dec 3, 2021 7:00 AM
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Cultivate Cochrane was recently approved to receive nearly $65,000 from the Government of Canada’s Healthy Communities Initiative grant to build and hire a part-time staff person for the Passive Solar Roller.

More sustainable food options will roll into town as a local non-profit is set to receive around $65,000 in grant funding to educate and promote sustainable growth.

Cultivate Cochrane was recently approved to receive the funds from the Government of Canada’s Healthy Communities Initiative to build and provide programming for the Passive Solar Roller, a mobile solar greenhouse.

“It’s kind of two things,” Cultivate Cochrane’s director Jackie Skrypnek said. “It’s a way to educate and demonstrate how we can grow food in our climate, which is a difficult climate. And then the other side of it is about building community through people having this opportunity to learn these things together.”

The group’s vision is to grow a resilient community where people have the means and know-how to feed themselves sustainably, while also creating gardening and food growing hubs for the community to meet and learn together.

The mobile greenhouse would demonstrate passive solar design as a sustainable way of extending the growing season while also providing hands-on programming to interested groups about food growing, nutrition and resiliency.

“I think up until this point, it’s been a bit abstract for some,” said Skrypnek. “People think that sounds like a good idea, but can’t really picture what we’re talking about. This mobile greenhouse is going to be a really tangible visual example of, on a smaller scale, what we’re talking about to just kind of engage people to be hands on and build a little bit of excitement and credibility in the community.”

The Passive Solar Roller is designed to be low maintenance by self-regulating its temperature for optimal warmth and cooling to facilitate growth.

Rather than the traditional common concept of enclosing the greenhouse in poly or glass or solid plastic sheeting, the north wall and possibly east and west walls, are made with other materials with thermal mass.

Cultivate Cochrane has enlisted the help of local construction company OnGrowing Works Ltd. to build the eight-foot-by-16-foot greenhouse, which will sit on a trailer bed for portability.

“We’ll be able to hit the road, reaching out to schools, youth and seniors groups, farmer’s markets and anybody else that would be interested in partnering with us to provide programming and education,” Skrypnek said. “That’s sort of the beginning plan.”

Much of the food produced in the greenhouse will be donated to places like the Helping Hands Free Food Shed and some might be used in programming to teach people a recipe that includes fresh produce.

As for what might be grown inside, Skrypnek said they will likely plant a combination of tomatoes, peppers and other typical greenhouse plants — but also perennials and maybe even trees and shrubs.

“The aim is for it to be a gathering space, a learning space, demonstration and experimental space, to some degree,” said Skrypnek.

The mobile greenhouse is a stepping stone toward Cultivate Cochrane’s main goal, which is to build a larger, permanent passive greenhouse somewhere in the community where people can gather to learn and foster a love of growing their green thumbs while empowering their ability to secure food sustainably.

“I think we need to look at some seasonal extension strategies and the idea of a passive solar greenhouse is one of them,” said Skrypnek. “We’re hoping to demonstrate how that could look if you wanted to go this route for extending the season — and then, who knows, maybe we end up with a bunch of them in backyards or shared neighbourhood areas.

“I think in Cochrane, and maybe in Alberta in general, there tends to be this feeling that it’s just too tough to grow food here. We want to demonstrate that you can do it and hopefully build up our collective skills and knowledge to do that.”

The Passive Solar Roller is expected to be completed sometime around April of next year, prior to the beginning of the spring growing season.

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