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The Green House Project


7 October 2008: “Israel-Manitoba greenhouse project next on Grand Rapids horizon” [Jewish Tribune, October 2008]

In May 2007, Chief Ovide Mercredi met with former Israeli Consulate General Ya’acov Brosh, Manitoba Jewish National Fund (JNF) President Graham Dixon, and former Israel National Emissary Rami Kleinmann to establish a joint Israel-Manitoba agreement, “the Memorandun of Understanding on Technological Transfer.” According to the plan, there would be a transfer of technology and expertise from Israel to Northern Manitoba, with Red River Community College providing an educational component here.

According to reporter Rebeca Kuropatwa, after this meeting, “Israeli experts came to Manitoba to promote building greenhouses and developing community knowledge in agriculture, tourism, management and computer science – specifically, in the pilot project location of Grand Rapids.” In return “a delegation from northern Manitoba went on a mission to Israel to gain know-how about Israeli greenhouse technology, money matters, and educational and cultural life.” It also visited “higher learning institutions, Eilat’s tourism department, Moshav Hayogev, Kibbutz Ketura and Kibbutz Lotan as part of a province-funded, JNF community-building program.”

The first project would be a greenhouse at Grand Rapids, and Chief Ovide Mercredi was excited about it,

We’re happy that Grand Rapids has been chosen for the pilot project, because of the relationship we will have with the JNF, the State of Israel, the new science and technology that will be shared with a sensitivity to the culture of the people, the improved health and well being it will bring our people, and [helping us become] economically independent communities.

Chief Mercredi went on to say that, “It’s important that we do this well,” because “We will be leading the way for other northern Manitoban communities.” He met with Dr. Kaplan, a greenhouse expert, in Israel and learned that the key was “to maintain a constant environment inside the greenhouse no matter what the season.”

According to Heidi Cook, greenhouse project manager, the project involved a combination of business, education, and community. The Cree Nation Health Authority was interested in community gardens, and the school wanted to have greenhouses included in the curriculum.

Construction would begin in the spring of 2009. The Province of Manitoba had committed million dollars, and an equal amount had been promised by the Jewish National Fund. According to Rosann Wowchuk, Manitoba Minister of Agriculture, “If it succeeds, we’ll also start it up in other northern communities,” adding,

The project will result in better quality of food and a better economy for our northern communities. The food will also be closer to home, in line with the 100-mile concept. Healthy food makes a big difference in people’s lives. It’s important to empower people and to create a sustainable community.

Discussion: This is an exciting project, reminiscent of the greenhouses promoted by the nutrition health advisors in Frontier School Division in the 1970s and early 1980s. When the Nutrition Health Program came to an end in the mid-80s, most of the greenhouses ceased operation. How could Grand Rapids learn from this earlier experiment in order to ensure the success of its undertaking?

The article raises a couple of other questions. Why was the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba not involved in this project? When the Manitoba Agriculture College was first established in 1906, it did extension work all over the province and was a powerful force for agricultural change in the province. Where is it now? Why was it necessary for innovators in Agriculture to go to the Middle East for advice and technological help? Shouldn’t the province be embarrassed by that state of affairs? Or is this just one more example of the neglect of rural and Northern Manitoba by a succession of provincial government? Perhaps these are questions for the Minister of Agriculture!

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Last updated: April 24, 2009


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