Monday, 5 September 2016

Growing North of 60

Travelling to new places often means replacing home comforts with new found curiosities. Still, I have always liked to bring a bit of home with me. In the past, I have travelled with photos, cards, a crochet hook and other small things that would slip easily into my backpack. Moving to the Arctic, I was thinking of other things. Gardening and food production is part of who I am. I love to put my hands in the soil in spring and I relish the bounty of a fall harvest. I have found ways of getting my hands dirty most places I go. While looking forward to experiencing the beauty of the tundra, I was not ready to give up that connection. This time, I travelled with an adapted form of agriculture in my backpack, packing seeds to sprout and red-wriggler worms to build some soil.

On my many exploratory walks around town, I was on the lookout for garden spaces. Although, we are North of 60, the long daylight hours of summer make for great greenhouse conditions. John and Allison Lamb, who lived in Iqaluit for many years, had told me about the community greenhouse project. I eventually found a large greenhouse, seemingly empty this year. I also spotted a few sunny porches with potted plants. Finally, I came across a beautiful house by the cemetery. 

Can you spot the growing systems?
Inside the greenhouse
Standing at a distance, I eyed up the various small outbuildings and structures, reckoning that edible plants grew there. As the house stands along my favourite coastal walk to the neighbourhood of Apex, I walked by often. Each time, standing and staring, noting more details: rain collection, cold frames, greenhouse, raised beds, a dog! I admittedly developed a crush on a house and series of systems I wanted to know more about.

Tender chard
Fortunately, I met the kind owners who gave me a tour. They have made cold frames and a small greenhouse with scrap wood, poly, sealift crates and tarps. Their soil is a combination of commercial bags and bokashi composted food scraps (inoculated to ferment anaerobically). They plant many cold hardy crops and herbs: kale, arugula, spinach, bok choy, parsley, mustard greens, peas. They have indulged me in watering, tending and munching on some of the greens. I am grateful. 

As food sovereignty in the Arctic has been challenged by both old and new forms of colonization, climate change and reliance of expensive southern products, I am curious on the role of greenhouses. I welcome your reflections.

Away. Together.

So much appears to make so little sense (a fence in the tundra?, "cold" water is heated in the utilidor, so that it doesn't freeze on its above-ground journey to our sinks, showers and toilets; in a city with a housing shortage, the governments of Canada and Nunavut pay what must be tens of thousands of dollars a month to keep apartments empty, allowing professionals, like us, to have a place to live as soon as we land; I've happily, found avocados, mangos, papayas, Guatemalan peas and güisquil/chayote/bum fruit in the grocery stores).

Why a fence in the tundra?
Today, though, these contradictions are not what are on my mind. Today, I'm mostly filled with gratitude to share all of this with Julie.

Hiking with around Geraldine Lake, Iqaluit's water supply.
Julie and I have spent a fair number of years working and living in other cultures and countries. We've done this, almost exclusively, separately. We've waddled along in second, and then third, languages while conversing with campesinos or loosing ourselves in humid capital cities. We've shared meals, and nights, with families on their dirt floors. We've learned how to politely refuse (or not) the delicious looking lettuce or the mug of lukewarm coffee. We've been strangers in homes and workplaces in distant corners of our planet.

This fence protects the city from incoming snow drifts.
We've done this separately, and internationally. Now, we're not in Senegal, India, Guatemala or Peru. We're in our own country, barely a three hour flight north of Ottawa. It is humbling that at times, in Canada, I cannot serve patients in their own language; I use an Inuktitut interpreter. If I begin to feel slightly at ease I'm reminded of how much I'm in someone else's land when clerical staff share and laugh in Inuktitut. Back to school flyers appear in our PO Box, in Inuktitut and English, advertising bologna, apples, Kraft Dinner and white bread. We're in Canada. Yet, such a different slice of this big, gorgeous and often messy country.

And, I didn't come here alone. I'm came with Julie. Her curiosity, gentleness and kindness astound me. I'm thrilled to be sharing all of this with her.

We're a bit dorky, it turns out, wherever we are :)