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Food & Hunger

An Indoor Farm in Manitoba Is Feeding 125 Indigenous Families

A vertical vegetable farm that started out as a small pilot project now holds 75 plants and supplies free produce to 125 families in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.

For a community like OCN, this could mean more than just fresh greens.

"What it boils down to is 49% of our community is diabetic," Stephanie Cook, the farm’s operations manager, told CBC. "That's a staggering amount. They're feeling that crunch on the health-care systems."

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Fresh produce is less accessible and expensive in certain northern communities, which can lead to high rates of diabetes, according to CBC.

The community’s vertical farm lives in a growing facility that looks a lot like a science laboratory. Inside, LED lights imitate sunshine while the temperature, moisture, carbon dioxide and nutrient levels are controlled through a computer.

In 2016, the farm started with just seven plants. But even with its current 75, there’s room to grow.

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On top of providing local families with food, some of the vegetables are donated to other organizations, as well as a program that helps those on social assistance learn how to cook healthy meals.

The pilot was put into place after a group of Korean business people had a serendipitous meeting with people from OCN.

When the Koreans’ vehicle got stuck nearby and trappers came to their aid. One thing led to another, and eventually the business people were introduced to OCN leaders to discuss vertical farming possibilities. Vertical farming is popular in South Korea, according to CBC.

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"It makes me happy," Cook told CBC. "I go home at the end of the day and I know those vegetables are getting out into the community and those people are making an effort to teach their kids."

She also said that other communities are now interested in the idea, and that people in the region seem motivated by the farm as plots and community gardens have since popped up in the area.

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