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Greenhouse for Naujaat this summer
Ryerson University business students raise $139,000 plus in-kind donations for hydroponic project in Repulse Bay

Karen K. Ho
Northern News Services
Saturday, June 13, 2015

Business students from the south have set their sights on getting things growing in Naujaat (Repulse Bay) this summer, with plans for a hydroponic greenhouse underway.

NNSL photo/graphic

Ryerson University students Savreen Gosal, left, Stefany Nieto, Ben Canning and Christian D'antonio, along with entrepreneurship and strategy department chair Phil Walsh at the Enactus Canada National exposition. Nieto, Canning and three other students plan on coming to Naujaat this August to build a greenhouse. - photo courtesy of Stefany Nieto

"We're using our business skills and everything we've learned in our undergrad (education) to apply it to the project and make it a success," co-project manager Stefany Nieto told Nunavut News/North.

Nieto, along with fellow student Ben Canning, is leading a group from Ryerson University who plan on building a year-round geodesic dome greenhouse - from supplier Growing Spaces - with the goal of providing the Northern community with lower-priced produce. After a needs assessment was made in 2014, the current plan is the greenhouse would generate a mix of produce and a pond with locally farmed arctic char. Nieto and her team are also hoping to integrate the structure's maintenance and operations into two of the local Grade 9 classes through weekly educational trips.

At the time of press, the group had already raised $139,000 in cash and about $70,000 through in-kind donations for the project. And Nieto said that all the profits generated from the greenhouse will be reinvested back into the community through initiatives like micro-loans or student bursaries for the student volunteers.

"We're not trying to make a (huge) profit," she said. "But it all depends on what the community wants."

Nieto first visited Naujaat last year and said she fell in love with the area right away. And even though the issue of food security has existed in the community for a while, Nieto said the non-profit initiative came about because a greenhouse hadn't been tried before as a solution.

"I think that's one of the biggest advantages we have is that it hasn't been done," she said, noting that a typical business would likely be scared off by the capital costs involved, estimated at $159,000. "You won't see a return on investment in five years - it might be double that."

Instead of a specific financial milestone, Nieto said the goal of the greenhouse is to increase the quality and standard of life for the residents of Naujaat.

"However after the first year we have forecasted that our sales will be able to cover our expenses," she said, noting their forecasts also predicts the greenhouse would reduce residents' food costs by 50 per cent.

Still, the team leader said the greenhouse has also been a great way for her and other members to learn about how to reach out to the government, private companies, other non-governmental organizations, and build partnerships to ensure the project becomes successful.

And although it's a social, non-profit, Nieto and Canning have learned relevant skills such as business development, balancing a budget, hiring, and entrepreneurship.

Supplies and equipment are scheduled to arrive by sealift in mid-August. Nieto will be arriving in Naujaat on Aug. 3, a week before the rest of the team, for a few community events and area prep.

The mayor of Naujaat, Solomon Malliki, said that as the project is coming closer, the hamlet is talking to the team at least on a weekly basis. However, he spoke with a tone of caution.

"You never know if it's going to go right," Malliki said. "I can be excited but then on the other hand I don't know."

Still, he expressed interest about the educational component of the project.

"It's going to help the students for sure learn how to grow produce," Malliki said.

Even with the all the work that still needs to be done, Nieto is already excited to get back on a plane headed for the North.

"I'm super hyped," she said. "I cannot wait to return."

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