SHESHEGWANING – The Odawa Fresh Water Gardens in the community of Sheshegwaning First Nation has proven to be so successful that it is already being expanded and hopes to soon be able to provide and make fresh produce available not only for community members and the West End of the Island, but eventually all of Manitoulin.
“It’s beautiful, and the program has really taken off,” stated April Folz, the economic development director at Sheshegwaning First Nation, last week. “We received funding for a second unit which will be a little more up to date. It won’t be housed out of a sea container, but the process will be the same.”
“We will be harvesting soon from the second unit,” said Ms. Folz. “As we start to roll out to the community members and then eventually we want to be able to provide this fresh produce throughout Western Manitoulin communities, then for all of the Island.”
Ms. Folz pointed out the First Nation “has put out a job posting for a systems manager. Right now, we have Nathan Bush in this capacity and he is doing a great job. We’re looking for someone to sell, market and grow the product.”
“Yes, for now we will be producing the same type of produce, but we are also doing pilot studies to eventually have strawberries produced in our system,” said Ms. Folz.
“The new unit building will be here in the next few weeks,” said Ms. Folz. “At the end of all of this will be two beautiful growing units, and be open to everyone.”
Presently, ODAWA is producing fresh produce such as Monte Carlo romaine lettuce, wildlife lettuce, a couple of variations of kale, spinach and bok choy.
There’s a convenience store in the Sheshegwaning First Nation community with a few grocery items, but the nearest grocery store is 40 minutes away in Gore Bay. As has been previously reported, when COVID-19 hit, the community put up a checkpoint and, Ms. Folz says, there was talk of closing the swing bridge to outsiders. That would have made it “tough to get food in,” she said. So in response, community leaders came up with a locally grown solution.
In June of 2020, the community purchased a container farm from the Ottawa-based company Growcer for about $300,000. Ms. Folz described the setup as a repurposed shipping container divided into growing sections, with a separate room housing climate controls and a monitoring system. The growing sections are outfitted with shelving, LED lighting and a hydroponic growing system which sees plants grow with their roots in water rather than soil.
With the system in full operation, members can sign up for a weekly subscription box to get fresh produce delivered right to their door.