From ice rink to green oasis: Food security and sovereignty in the North

A greenhouse inside a former hockey arena, full of green plants.
Sara Raymond de Booy

7 November 2023

“You’re in Inuvik, the sun’s been down for a month. You’re two degrees above the Arctic Circle, and it’s minus 35 this morning, and you’re building a greenhouse. Is that right? And I said, Randy, yep, that’s right. […] It’s going to take a lot more than vision to get this thing off the ground.”

– Peter Clarkson, biologist and former mayor of Inuvik

In a converted hockey rink, rich garden greenery contrasts against bright sunshine beaming through the glass roof. The plants soak up the region’s near-constant summer daylight. And the garden is thriving. Let’s stop by for a visit.

In this podcast, we learn about how Inuvik has used creative solutions like this combined with traditional knowledge to maintain food security and self-suffiency in one of the world’s harshest environments. It’s a solution to a food-security problem that Inuvik has always had to deal with and one that many destinations around the world might be grappling with soon. 

Janet Dean, Executive Director of the Territorial AgriFood Association

Janet Dean, Executive Director of the Territorial AgriFood Association

In our discussions with Janet Dean, the Executive Director of the Territorial AgriFood Association, we gain valuable insights into adapting to challenging environments. Janet’s journey in the agri-food sector underscores the importance of innovative solutions in harsh conditions, local food production promotion, Indigenous food sovereignty, and food security.

Next, we hear from Peter Clarkson, a former mayor and biologist, who emphasizes the influence of environmental shifts on food security. He also stresses the significance of educating individuals on cultivating their own food to reduce dependence on imports.

This episode, you’ll learn:

  • About the resurgence of agriculture in the Arctic.
  • How a converted hockey arena became North America’s most northern greenhouse.
  • Why Indigenous food sovereignty and food security are critical to sustainable food production. 
  • Why Inuvik and the Northwest Territories are exciting spaces for food tourism.
  • About actions that are making tourism more additive and less extractive.
  • About actions being taken to make home heating more efficient in the North. 



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Feature image provided by the Town of Inuvik.

Show notes

Territorial Agri-food Association – The Territorial Agrifood Association (TAA) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization based in Hay River, Northwest Territories, Canada that was formed in 2020 to represent members of the agri-food value chain across the territory.

Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board – The main instrument of wildlife, fish and forest management in the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA). We act in the public interest, representing all the parties to the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (GCLCA) – the Gwich’in, the people of the Northwest Territories and all Canadians.

NWTRPA Walking Challenge (previously called Walk to Tuk) – An annual community walking challenge that takes place in January and February. Community members, schools, and workplaces are encouraged to form teams and conceptually walk the distance of the Big River from Zhatıé Kų́ę́/Fort Providence to Tuktuuyaqtuuq/Tuktoyaktuk, a total of 1,658 km.

Episode transcript

Peter Clarkson: CBC’s Randy Henderson was interviewing me over the phone. And he said, “Okay Peter, let me get this straight. You’re in Inuvik, the sun’s been down for a month, you’re two degrees above the Arctic Circle, and it’s minus 35 this morning, and you’re building a greenhouse, is that right?” And I said “Randy, yep that’s right, that’s what we’re doing.” And he says, “Wow, that takes some vision.” And I said, “Randy, it’s gonna take a lot more than vision to get this thing off the ground.”

David Archer: Hello and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording, as always, from the village of Daajing Giids, British Columbia, in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

Tyler Robinson: And I’m Tyler Robinson, a Climate Specialist at Destination Think. I’m recording from Toronto, the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. On this podcast, we look at the role of travel and choose to highlight destinations that are global leaders.

David Archer: We talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up.

Tyler Robinson: We’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems, so be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us.

David Archer: Well, Tyler, I can’t believe we’re here already, but this is our final episode in this season with Inuvik. So far we’ve heard from Indigenous leaders about relationships with land and culture. We heard from the Town of Inuvik for its perspective on tourism and the community. And we heard last time from a pair of climate scientists visiting Inuvik. This episode is going to turn to some of the inspiring actions happening locally, and there’s quite a variety of those. We’re going to hear about food security and Indigenous food sovereignty first, and those might be unfamiliar terms, but the BC government gives this definition: “Food security exists when all people have sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life.”

And the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives says “food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food, produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. And more importantly, it’s the right to define and control our own food and agriculture systems, including markets, production modes, food cultures, and environments.” 

So this is one example of a topic that many of us have never touched in our tourism and travel jobs. A lot of us have worked in food and beverage, but as supply chains change, it’s good to be aware of new food movements and how they could impact the travel industry. So as you try and understand the role of travel in the world today, what other topics are coming up for you these days? What are you seeing out there? Or what are some of the other important topics intersecting travel?

Tyler Robinson: Well, of course, food sovereignty and security is a major component of climate change or the climate crisis. And I focus a lot of my time in that space. Two other topics that intersect this work significantly are social justice and biodiversity loss.

Integrating social justice into climate action is not just an ethical imperative, but also a practical one. It’s really the only way that we’re going to create lasting, widespread change, by pursuing a just and equitable transition. And then similarly with biodiversity loss, if we try to address the climate crisis without taking into account our parallel biodiversity crisis, we’ll just create even more significant problems for ourselves down the road.

David Archer: Right. Because often we talk about emissions, but there are parallel crises going on. By biodiversity crisis, do you mean things like extinctions and that sort of thing, like loss of habitats?

Tyler Robinson: I’m talking about loss of life in both plant form and animal form. The rich diversity of life forms that make up our ecosystems are incredibly interrelated, and we can’t remove parts of those ecosystems without having widespread impact. So as we reduce the diversity of life forms within those ecosystems, we begin to make them less robust to changes, particularly large-scale changes such as climate change.

David Archer: Yeah. The term ecosystem seems to be a good analogy for how we’re starting to think about travel as well as being interconnected with all of these topics. How do you keep them all in your head or in view without overloading?

Tyler Robinson: I think the UN SDGs or the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals do a really good job of organizing all of our major sustainability challenges and goals into a digestible framework. I also think our thought process can be simplified if we ask ourselves, how would I pursue an initiative if it were my family or community that were the ones being impacted?

I find that it can be easier to think holistically when we lead with this kind of empathy.

David Archer: Right. And we can visualize an impact when we see it, or when we can imagine it applied to our lives. Is that what you’re getting at? 

Tyler Robinson: Yeah absolutely.

David Archer: So we’re sharing some examples of sustainability turned into action this episode. What about Inuvik inspires you the most, having been there and worked with the town?

Tyler Robinson: What inspires me is how much they can do with the challenges and constraints that can come with living in the Arctic. It’s great to see an example of how constraint can lead to creativity and innovative action, which makes it such a rich place to learn from for the rest of the world.

David Archer: Yeah, and we’re going to hear about some of those innovations right now. So let’s go to Rodney’s conversation with Janet Dean, the Executive Director of the Territorial Agrifood Association to learn about innovations in agriculture. 

Janet Dean: My name is Janet Dean. I’m the Executive Director of the Territorial Agrifood Association. I’ve been peripherally involved in the food sector from very early on in my career. My very first training was as a chef, but also through family connections to farms, through small-scale food producing. We’ve owned restaurants. We’ve been involved in the agri-food sector from farm to fork for much of my career.

But I’ve also got a business side where I have done small business development, working with startups, working, on international development projects. So kind of a mix of all of that.

Rodney Payne: What’s something that people might not realize about agriculture in the Northwest Territories?

Janet Dean: That it exists. That we have some places of good dirt if we want to do land-based agriculture.

But we’re also ripe for opportunities for innovation. We do it differently here. We have to do it differently here, southern models don’t work. So I think it’s a great place to try something different.

Rodney Payne: Where’s your favorite food here in the Northwest Territories?

Janet Dean: I think we have many great flavors of the North. That’s a tough question. You’re putting me on the spot. 

We cannot commercially buy or sell any NWT proteins, and so if we enjoy caribou or musk ox, it’s because a friend or somebody we knew was able to hunt it. Traditional foods can only be shared within Indigenous communities, and so, I would say the safest thing to say that is the best taste of place of the Northwest Territories is fish from any of our lakes and they are wonderful fish. Fish like you can’t find anywhere else. Arctic char is fantastic. Any of the fish from Great Slave Lake is also great.

Rodney Payne: And what types of food can be raised or grown here?

Janet Dean: Well, we haven’t found anything that can’t, it just sometimes needs a little bit of extra attention or slightly more innovative ways to grow.

So for example, we have short growing seasons, but we have intense light over those short growing seasons. So in the southern part of the territories, we can grow pretty well all crops from forage crops to food crops, to grain crops. As you move further north, we don’t grow corn, but we can grow in greenhouses, and it’s a chance we can be innovative and try something different. There’s kelp forests outside on the Arctic coast that we could consider kelp farming. So there’s lots of things that we can do that maybe don’t fit that traditional farming model. 

Rodney Payne: Set the stage for us. Tell us about Indigenous food sovereignty and the recent report on decolonizing the agricultural industry here.

Janet Dean: Yeah, it’s a key priority for our organization.

We’ve commissioned a report on what we can do to be a part of that. Absolutely, fundamentally important. In terms of Indigenous food sovereignty, we of course support and will work alongside any of our Indigenous partners and communities to help along that goal. But we definitely believe that food sovereignty and food security go hand-in-glove with the commercial aspects of food production.

If we want people to invest in food, we have to make it a viable option for them. So they have to be able to be paid a living wage to work in food, and we have to be able to commercialize food production to help provide those living wages.

 We support the agri-food value chain in the territory right from seed development, growing, processing, we work with chefs to encourage local food use in what they’re doing as much as possible. We’re working with the distribution networks to try to create a better distribution system is probably one of our biggest concerns in the North, is just getting food from one location, one community, one region to another. So we work in that area. We also work to influence policies. So we’re working to influence the GNWT’s procurement policy. So we want to see in the government’s procurement policy a preference given to food that is grown or processed in the North and we’re working to influence that. So we try to be involved at all levels of the food chain.

Rodney Payne: What are the big problems or risks in the food system that you see that you’re working to solve?

Janet Dean: Oh, the biggest challenges are lack of participants. We don’t have a kind of food culture of processing and growing. We have a few traditional harvesters and traditional models. But we don’t see that with enough participants to make it a really viable commercial sector. So that would be a challenge.

I would say the environment, I don’t know that that’s a challenge. I think we’ve got lots of people who are finding innovative ways to respond to it. So it’s more something that motivates people to be a little bit more innovative or try different models. But certainly that’s a response. We have to do things differently.

We have some restrictive regulations and legislation that we’re still working to overcome. We’ve got, for example, meat regulations that have been on the table for several years now that prohibit the sale of commercially grown meat. So we’ve got people who want to produce rabbit meat but are not able to raise rabbits or sell the meat from them.

We have to get those regulations a little bit more up to date. I think we’ve got a lot of interest in culinary tourism or food tourism, but we have some kind of tourism infrastructure hurdles that we have to get over as well.

Rodney Payne: What are some of the threats to the Northwest Territory’s food supply and agricultural opportunities?

Janet Dean: Well, we’re at the end of a very long supply chain. That in itself is a threat. Should we have road cut off in our larger centers, should we have the inability to fly into our smaller centers, we are very, very vulnerable. So those are definitely key concerns. We have limited knowledge invested in some of our residents on how to grow or how to produce.

 Although we do have a lot of traditional knowledge, we are quite segmented in our food sector, and we need to make it a priority to bring those component parts together to share that wisdom across the regions, across the communities.

Rodney Payne: How’s climate change affecting sustainable food?

Janet Dean: Climate change is a hot topic, of course.

And we see it from a lot of different perspectives. I’ve been involved in an awful lot of climate change consultations right now. But for example, with southern temperatures warming and giving us a longer growing season, then we potentially could grow higher yield crops. So that could make a difference.

But even in the Arctic, when we look at the warming of the Arctic Ocean, that allows us to perhaps invest in kelp or seaweed growing and some of the opportunities there. Our waters, our Arctic waters are some of the least salty of the oceans, but as they get warmer, they’ll get saltier, and that will allow us to potentially explore salt production here in the north.

So climate change has an impact. We can look at kind of some of the opportunities that may rise, but of course, it will also damage travel and road infrastructure. It erodes people’s homes and communities. I mean, there’s all those kinds of impacts as well.

Rodney Payne: And what are some of the other infrastructure challenges you see in the agricultural space?

Janet Dean: Primarily it’s distribution to market. As an infrastructure challenge, there’s a lot of money available to us. So I would say it’s more transportation. 

Rodney Payne: What would you say the mood is like in the agricultural community in the Northwest Territories?

Janet Dean: We’ve recently had forest fires in our primary farming community that caused an evacuation and a late start to the growing season, and that’s after recovering from significant flooding last year.

So there’s some frustration in that region of the territories. But I think in other parts of the territories there’s excitement. There’s new players coming in. I’m meeting young couples who are moving to the north, who want to farm, who want to produce food, but it’s outside of their possibility down south with the cost of the farms and the scale of the farms.

So I think there’s excitement there. I think there’s lots of opportunities for innovation. I think we need to find the right people to awaken that spark here for us. But we are an entrepreneurial territory, and we just need to find that focus in agri-food.

Rodney Payne: How does your work affect Inuvik and the people here?

Janet Dean: Well I think food security is a territorial concern, not just a community concern. So I think certainly we can be a part of helping develop food security, food sovereignty within the Inuvik region. But I think Inuvik also is a great destination for culinary tourism or food tourism. And that is our mandate, to work to develop the food tourism sector.

I think we can share a lot of lessons learned. We get a lot of information from across polar regions, across southern Canada, on research projects, new innovation that’s being done. And we can share that and exchange the information with what’s happening up here in Inuvik. Inuvik already is on the map with the greenhouse and the country food processing plant.

And I think we can help take those lessons and distribute them for them. But also to bring new learnings in and help keep developing the sector here in Inuvik.

Rodney Payne: If you could imagine a really exciting future in 10 years, what would you hope that you can help to create? 

Janet Dean: I think about that a lot, actually.

I think that we will have food hubs in our regional centers where we will collect and disseminate food that is locally grown or locally processed. I think we will have amazing secondary meat processing industries where we’ll be all enjoying territorial foods: meats fish, but bison, there’s a new bison plant going up.

But innovative ideas, there’s somebody that’s, that’s going to be start producing vodka from potatoes grown in the NWT. So I think we’ll see that the sector gets bigger, continues to get more diverse, but starts thriving a little bit more from an economic perspective, as well as tackling a little bit better some of the issues around food security and food sovereignty.

Rodney Payne: Awesome. And if you could leave us with one message, what do you need from Inuvik and the community here to help accelerate your work?

Janet Dean: I think Inuvik and the community here is already dynamically poised for their work in the agri-food sector. And I think we can help enhance that, we can help feature them, we can help bring them to the Canadian table.

We are organizing the NWT’s first culinary food festival at the end of July in Yellowknife. We hope to bring down culinary ambassadors from Inuvik and the Beaufort Delta to share their stories, to share their taste of place with visitors from across the world. And I think continuing to spread that message that there is a taste of place here in the NWT, and an amazing taste of place, is what we can contribute.

Rodney Payne: Awesome. Well, thank you for taking a few moments to come and talk with us.

Janet Dean: Thank you. 

Tyler Robinson: That was Rodney Payne speaking with Janet Dean from the Territorial Agrifood Association. Our last interview today is with Peter Clarkson, a biologist and former Inuvik Mayor, who has brought some innovations in energy efficiency and food production. 

Peter Clarkson: I’m Peter Clarkson. I moved to Inuvik in January 1987 as a biologist. I got a job as a wolf and grizzly biologist, which was kind of my dream job back then. I had spent all my life in small communities, other than going to university, so I was very comfortable moving to Inuvik.

And while here, I was wolf and grizzly biologist for almost ten years, and then that was after the Inuvialuit had their land claim and were setting up their co-management system. And then the Gwich’in got their land claim in 1992 and were beginning to set up their co-management system, so I applied on the Executive Director job of the Gwich’in Renewable Resource Board, which again was co-management. And did that for 10 years and then was mayor for six years, overlapping in part of that.

And then two years as a full-time mayor and then in 2006 decided the community had been pushed enough, as far as making some progress and things, that maybe they needed a rest. So I went back and worked for government in the department of executive as the regional director for the Beaufort Delta and Sahtu.

And then in June of 2020 decided that was enough of showing up at the office every day and retired from government and took on some other projects, built an energy efficient house, sold that to couple of doctors. It was probably the only house in the Northwest Territories that doesn’t have a boiler or a furnace.

It’s a passive solar design, and heated by a natural gas fireplace, but super insulated and super energy efficient. And then been walking the dogs, cutting firewood, just enjoying the land. We’ve got a camp in the Delta. We have a camp in the mountains. We get out as much as we can, and my partner still works, she’s a health professional, she’s a nurse, so she’s still working.

Rodney Payne: How much energy does the house use that you built up here in the North?

Peter Clarkson: The two doctors who bought it, his coldest month, and it’s only happened once, was $300 per month for that one month. Everything else has been less than $200, maybe $250 maybe $225. There are some houses in Inuvik that pay $2,000 a month to heat the house. They’re that poorly insulated. I’ve got a couple rental properties upstairs, downstairs, duplexes, and in a cold month it’s about a thousand dollars, just for natural gas.

Rodney Payne: Do you think what you learned through innovating and pioneering a really efficient home in the north is something that we could do in more cases?

Peter Clarkson: Totally. There’s no magic. Thick walls, thick insulated walls, lots of insulation in the ceiling, so super insulated but also super tight, so it needs an HVAC system to exchange the air, but as the warm air is going out it warms up the cold air coming in. And they’re doing some of that now ,they’re still putting boilers and furnaces in, so they haven’t got that brave, but some of the new RCMP houses, they did the same thing that I did, They put what’s called a Larsen’s truss where you actually take a floor joist and turn it up horizontal, put plywood on it and then insulate that one foot as well as then you insulate the structural two by six. So you increase your R value.

Rodney Payne: Yeah. Which is important up here because everything’s on stilts.

Peter Clarkson: And we get long, cold winters. You get, you know, minus 40 with a 40 kilometer an hour wind and it’s, it’s quite cold.

Rodney Payne: For someone who spent their early career in biology, are you seeing a lot of environmental change up here?

Peter Clarkson: Yeah, definitely. It’s a lot windier than it used to be. 

And then there’s been slumping along the river. I did a hiking trip up on Banks Island, well we hiked canoed the Thompson River, and then we’re hiking around and saw some huge slump areas, like whole hillsides for a kilometer just slumping down into the river. I think with the warmer, wetter summers, as you get more rain, then the ground gets saturated. And if it’s on a slope it just slides down. 

Yeah, in the last 36 years that I’ve been here, there have been changes. I mean the Elders who lived here their entire life they’ve seen huge changes in, in what’s happened and it’s definitely climate change. We’re getting warmer, more moisture. You can’t confuse weather with climate, like we still get some cold winters, but over the long run the winters have been getting warmer.

If you read some of the historical stuff of the cold winters that they used to get, I mean they were really cold. Now we think a cold winter is minus 40.

Rodney Payne: Which as an Australian, I find intimidating. 

 We’ve heard a lot about the local environmental impacts of climate change from different people we’ve spoken to on this trip. Do you think the quite significant changes and quite rapid changes that the Arctic is experiencing is a warning for the world?

Peter Clarkson: I think across the Arctic, we’re seeing changes, and then we’re also seeing changes in species that are able to come further north because the temperatures are warmer, the water’s warmer. So yeah, I think overall people who are spending time on the land are seeing changes. The ice isn’t as thick. I was just in Tuk on the weekend and I was there the week before and the ice was right up to the shore almost, maybe there was four or five meters of water between. And then we got there on Sunday and the ice was way out there like probably a couple kilometers. And normally that ice stays in that Tuk area until July.

I’ve gone up there the end of June first part of July, and the ice is still there. But we’ve had some warm weather, and we had some south winds and it just pushed the ice out.

Rodney Payne: Yeah, we were there yesterday and you could barely make out the ice on the horizon. You had to really squint to see the white horizon line. 

When you think about sea ice retreating quickly, what are some of the concerning things that jump to mind?

Peter Clarkson: I guess it just means, you know locally that then people going out onto the ice have to be more careful, but also they’re not going as late as they used to be. I mean they could still go up the coast and hunt geese in mid-May, where now, you know, you’re taking your chances because you get, you know, south wind and it blows the ice north, then you’re not getting ashore with a skidoo and a toboggan. So you’ve got to be super careful.

At the same time, we could get a north wind for three days and the ice would be back on the shore. It’s pretty fluid there.

Rodney Payne: When you live in a really sensitive ecosystem like the one that we’re in now, and you think about the trajectory that we’re seeing in earth systems and human systems, are you worried?

Peter Clarkson: I guess in my age we’re not going to see as dramatic a changes that are going to change things that much, but yeah I’m worried for the future generations. Like it’s Tuk completely going to fall into the ocean? Are they going to be able to keep building back away from the shore enough that they can maintain that community there? Can some of the other coastal communities ensure that they’re safe from washing into the ocean?

But also other environmental-type impacts like, you know, all the forest fires we’re seeing right now because of the drier springs and hotter temperatures… Yeah, I think we’re more sensitive to it but there’s definitely more of those type of impacts. 

Rodney Payne: And food security is something that you’ve thought a lot about. Can you tell me about the greenhouse project that you were involved in?

Peter Clarkson: Yeah, so a friend and I in the summer of ’98 we’re driving by the greenhouse and the greenhouse was right beside Grollier Hall, which was the last residential school in Canada to close in ’96, and that was scheduled to be torn down. And so was the hockey arena right beside it. And Father Ruyant who had the Coca-Cola dealership at the time was taking the profits putting ’em into an account and then bought enough material to build a hockey rink for the kids in residential school. 

 And so that was also scheduled for demolition and we’re driving by and we thought wow wouldn’t that make a neat greenhouse? You know, instead of tearing it down, let’s repurpose it into something positive that, you know, will make a difference in the community and get people back growing their own vegetables and get people into a place where they can socialize, and it’s like an oasis in the Arctic. We’ll have to go over after in the afternoon but it is incredible.

And I always tell people you know what, the vegetables and the flowers and whatever people are growing is the bonus. The real benefit of this place is the social wellness and the interactions between Elders and youth and bringing kids in there and getting their hands in the dirt. Those are the real benefits. And if you’re taking home some potatoes or taking home some lettuce, that’s a bonus. And it’s involved the entire community, it’s involved the Indigenous community, it’s involved the Filipino community the European descendant communities, so it’s a real representation of Inuvik. And we’ve got a total open-door policy since COVID, we’re getting people back in there if they just want to come and take a look, if they want to come and have their coffee in there, whatever they want to do if they want to have a plot and grow things, great. But just get in there, it’s an incredible facility.

Rodney Payne: What are some of the things you’ve managed to grow up in the Arctic?

Peter Clarkson: We’ve got probably Canada’s, maybe North America’s, two most northern apple trees in there. And they grow like real apples, not just little crab apples but they’re real apples. 

And so we grow those out, and then we’ll harvest those in the fall, sell them at our Arctic market. Or some of the staff have made pies from the apples and sold those, there’s some hescap berries in there, there’s lots of raspberries in there, there’s rhubarb in there, which has a, a whole other story connection to some previous gardens that were in town. 

An Elder remembered they had a garden up on the hillside like 40 years ago. He went up in on the hillside where he kind of remembered it was, and there was the rhubarb still growing. And he dug it up, put it in his plot. And that was probably 15 years ago. And then from there, everybody’s taken a piece, and now we’ve got rhubarb throughout the entire greenhouse.

 People grow lots of leafy greens, people grow tomatoes, people grow cucumbers and some people grow corn and they’ll actually get corn on the cob in there which is pretty incredible. 

And the Greenhouse Society, which runs the place ,they bring up a bunch of bedding plants as little pellets and then regrow those. That’s the main fundraiser for the society. We sell bedding plants for the whole region. So the bedding plants go all over the place as well as, all the town bedding plants that they have hanging from the light stands and stuff those are all from the greenhouse and it’s just made a huge difference as far as greenery and capacity and and getting people back growing things. 

I mean, probably back in the 30s, 40s, 50s, there used to be lots of gardens here. Especially in the Delta, where you don’t have as much permafrost and because there was no highway, the limited air traffic, so people were growing their own food. And then they got away from that when it was easier to buy it and now we’re seeing a resurgence and people again wanting to grow their own food.

And in Inuvik here, you can grow potatoes if you put them in raised beds. So they’re out of the ground, so it’s a lot warmer. And I had a potato last year it was a pound and a half, one potato. And the hill itself was seven and a half pounds just in one one potato hill.

Rodney Payne: That’s some good soil.

Peter Clarkson: Yeah. So you can get some good soil and you can nurture that soil. You can compost in your house and turn that into good soil or add some some fertilizers to it. 

Rodney Payne: Is the greenhouse, is it a season extender, or are you growing in winter as well?

Peter Clarkson: It doesn’t grow in the winter, but it doubled the growing season.

So typically, we used to plant outside here the first weekend in June and hope we didn’t get snow. And then by the end of August, usually we had a frost. Now people are planting in the greenhouse the first weekend in May, and it stays frost-free until the end of September. So technically we have a longer growing season in in Inuvik, two degrees above the Arctic Circle, than Alberta does. 

Rodney Payne: Why is it important to grow food locally? 

Peter Clarkson: I think for a couple of reasons. One just for that independence. We, we don’t put a huge dint into the two main stores, stanton’s or North Mart, I mean they’re still trucking up truckloads and truckloads of good healthy fresh vegetables, which is good, but if we can show people and show kids, look you can grow your own lettuce, and you can have a little herb garden on your counter and on your window sill, it just gives them a bit more independence and a bit more food security. 

With the few raised beds I have, I’m able to have potatoes from, you know, we start harvesting in late August, and then I’ll have potatoes right around until June before I have to, you know, buy any potatoes. 

And so I think, I mean it can replace vegetables that you would have to buy, but I think it’s also a lot healthier. You know a head of lettuce that you’ve grown, and you’ve grown it organically, you know it’s not covered by pesticides. Something coming out of Mexico or California, they have to put pesticides on that stuff, you know, unless you’re buying it from an organic farm, you know, in order to keep all the pests off of it, and then it sits on a truck for three weeks to get to Inuvik. So, I mean, a lot of this stuff is picked way before it’s primed just so it’ll survive the truck ride.

Plus all the greenhouse gas emissions of trucking everything up, and then those trucks go back empty. So if we can cut back on a little bit of that, but also just having people growing their own fresh stuff, watching a mother and her two young kids coming out of the greenhouse with a handful of lettuce and some carrots and, you know, a couple beets, it’s a magic thing, you know, and they grew them, and they’re going to take those home and eat them. And the kids learned that they grew that. That came out of the ground. 

Rodney Payne: It’s very special. Do you get a lot of people coming to visit and see what you’ve created in the greenhouse? 

Peter Clarkson: Yeah, we started construction, I think it was January 4th 1999, and CBC Randy Henderson was interviewing me over the phone. And he said, “Okay Peter, let me get this straight. You’re in Inuvik, the sun’s been down for a month, you’re two degrees above the Arctic Circle, and it’s minus 35 this morning, and you’re building a greenhouse, is that right?” And I said “Randy, yep that’s right, that’s what we’re doing.” And he says, “Wow, that takes some vision.” 

And I said, “Randy, it’s gonna take a lot more than vision to get this thing off the ground,” but here we are 24 years later. And it’s still a great facility. And we’ve had thousands of people go through there. I mean, thousands of residents go through there as people come and go, but also thousands of tourists. And then we had media coverage I can’t remember the name of the TV shows they used to be on like Country Gardener and On the Road Again or whatever the different shows were. And it’s been in a number of magazines and newspaper articles. Different greenhouse staff and board members have traveled different parts of the world to tell the success story. And yeah, it’s been a great project And it’s taken something that was associated with something that was fairly tragic and, you know, the whole residential school but it’s turned it into a very positive community facility that can be enjoyed by a lot of people and has a positive story. 

Rodney Payne: You mentioned the carbon footprint of our agricultural system. 

When I think about tourism, it also has a big carbon footprint. It’s really energy intensive to move things and people around. How can tourism reduce its environmental impact or be a net positive for a place? Are there any examples you’ve got of how tourism can become regenerative? 

Peter Clarkson: It’s tough as you know, flying different places. Driving up, like, we’re 3,000 kilometers from Edmonton. And I’ve driven that trip with different vehicles several times. You can buy more energy efficient vehicles but, again, it’s, it’s tough. You’re still covering a huge block of land in going from even from here to Whitehorse, you know. 14 hours of driving, 1,250 kilometers. 

Um, one of the things we’ve just started this year, well we started in 2019 before COVID, we had the Walk to Tuk for Kids, which is a regenerative tourism event, where initially three of us, we literally walked to Tuk on the Inuvik-Tuk highway over four days. So we did 40 kilometers the first day, 40 the second day, 35 and then 35, and we got to Tuk over four days, which is 150 kilometres.

I wanted to do it when it opened in 2018 but I hurt my back collecting wood, so I had to wait another year and then two friends from Vancouver said no we wanted to come up and do it. And then the one friend said, you know what, if I’m going to suffer on the road for four days, we got to raise money for something. So then we came up with the Walk to Tuk for Kids, and it benefits the school in Inuvik, and it benefits the school, Mangilaluk school in Tuk, East 3 school in Inuvik. And it’s a fundraiser for their school wellness and enrichment. So if the students are traveling out somewhere to see something that normally wouldn’t be funded by the school, like the arts class going someplace to see some artwork, or teams going somewhere so they’ve got someone to play against, or if they want to bring up some inspirational speakers. The money’s divided by the education council into the two schools and then the schools themselves decide where to allocate that money and what the priorities are.

So in 2019 we raised about $13,500 and then we just finished doing it here on June 3rd, and we’re just approaching $30,000. We might be over 30 thousand now, that we’ve raised for both schools in cash and in-kind support. 

So I guess there’s ways to give back when you are visiting, so I think that’s, that’s good. I know when I travel I like to meet the average person, or somehow give something back to the community. 

 But I think we can do the same thing in the Arctic. And with this Trek to Tuk for Kids, it’s a way to get up and see the area. We had the schools, we, they put on the welcome dinner and the celebration dinner. So the welcome dinner here, East 3 put it on. And then they had the kids doing some of their cultural dances and singing. And then in Tuk we had something very similar. And the kids up there in 2018 did a documentary on climate change and how they didn’t want their community to move. And they’ve recently done a music video, kind of a hip hop video about we don’t want to move. We want our home is here.

And it’s very cool. They showed that, and I think it really struck the heartstrings of the people that had done the Trek to Tuk. 

Rodney Payne: Do you think tourism experiences are going to have to shift to be additive rather than extractive?

Peter Clarkson: I think so. And I think once the tourists themselves make that shift, it’s a much fuller experience. Like the people who came up from Vancouver and saw the kids dancing and knew they were contributing to that and then their parents taking them around, one group of the garbage pickers got to Tuk early, met some local kids, the kids gave them a tour of the town, took them to their house, and you know then you know they of course invited everybody out to the celebration dinner that we were having that night. But it was a close connection that you often don’t get, you know, if you’re on a cruise ship or, you know, it’s just a some of that one-on-one with people from the community, and, and buying some of the crafts that they had made, and just the story about, okay how did you get into jewelry making that your grandmother used to make these, and so, you know, you’ve also taken, you know, learned those skills. 

People are hungry for those stories and hungry for that connection. They want some authentic, and if it costs more, it costs more. But that’s making a contribution to the community. And I think it’s the same thing with seeing some of these places when people come up to see some of the tourist attractions that are here, that, you know like the greenhouse or other special places. 

Rodney Payne: What do you think Inuvik can teach the world? 

Peter Clarkson: One of the things that I was very proud of when I was Mayor and very proud of as a resident. 

Inuvik people, we’ve got the two Indigenous groups that have been here for millenniums. So we have the Gwich’in, the Inuvialuit. But there are people here from all over the world. We’ve got a large Muslim community. We’ve got the most northern mosque in North America. We’ve got a fairly large Filipino community. And recently a fairly large African community. And some people have been in Canada maybe for a couple generations.

But Inuvik is very cosmopolitan. But I think we’ve found a balance on how to live together. And maybe it’s because we’re this far north and we depend on each other. But I think there’s that balance of living together, respecting people for their differences, but also enjoying their differences, enjoying the culture of the Inuvialuit, enjoying the culture of the Gwich’in, but also enjoying the culture of the Muslims, and some of the celebrations they have, and some of the struggles they have. 

And we’ve have um, the Arctic market. Different people from different cultures will prepare some of their food and you can go buy it and, have it for lunch. And it’s just nice seeing that. 

And we were quite happy to raise our kids, three boys, in a community that fostered that, and had that diversity.

And so I think it’s rare to have a community like that in Canada. And I always tell people, we’re the only community of 3,300, people that has a community feast. So, those things are important, and they continue to be a part of the life here.

Rodney Payne: Thank you for sitting down with us today. 

Peter Clarkson: You’re welcome. Thanks for taking the time to learn about Inuvik. It’s a great community.

Tyler Robinson: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think, and you just heard interviews with Janet Dean and Peter Clarkson. We’ll include links to more resources on the blog for this episode at I’m Tyler Robinson, and my co-host is David Archer, who co-produces the Travel Beyond podcast with Sara Raymond de Booy.

David produced this episode and composed our theme music. Lindsay Payne and Annika Rautiola provided production support. We would like to thank the Town of Inuvik for sponsoring this season, and we’re grateful to the many community members, including Indigenous leaders, who shared their time and stories with us. 

You can help more people find this show by subscribing, and by leaving a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Thanks for being with us this season. We’ll be back soon with more inspiring stories. See you soon.


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