The only way is up
Little Greenhouse that could promoting vertical farming
A local entrepreneur and bioengineer-in-training wants Winnipeg to start building up its food supply — literally. Trina Semenchuk is the CEO and founder of an enterprise called Little Greenhouse that Could, which promotes vertical farming, a type of indoor urban agriculture in which plants are grown on shelves stacked on top of each other.
“Our vision is to turn Winnipeg into the vertical farming city of the world,” Semenchuk, an Old St. Vital resident, said.
Vertical farming has been proposed as a way to increase food security and alleviate high food costs, particularly in northern communities, and has caught on in Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas, where a successful vertical farming project has been on the go since 2016.
Semenchuk has been trying to help seed the idea, so to speak, among students at St. John’s High School, where she is helping to run a project in which students design and build their own indoor growing systems.
“They’re starting to grow lettuce and one group is trying to grow strawberries and sugar snap peas. There’s a lot of different varieties there,” she said.
Semenchuk said she’s been impressed with how much the kids seemed to know. They’d come into class after doing some independent research with a surprising understanding of vertical farming, she said.
“It feels very rewarding,” she said. “But it’s hard because you want to find a balance where you’re encouraging and trying to inspire kids to be motivated and interested in vertical farming, but you don’t want to push too much on them.”
St. John’s High School electronics teacher Thomas Murphy, who runs the project alongside Semenchuk and the schools pre-engineering teacher Danny Burly, said they felt the project was pertinent to their students.
“We felt that it was a very good topic to focus on, especially with food insecurity in the North End, but also in northern communities. We thought it’d be a good way to shine light on a solution to fix that. And it timed out, too, with the lettuce shortage,” Murphy said.
Murphy said that Semenchuk’s expertise and enthusiasm has helped the students buy into the project.
“She’s great. She brought so much to the class, her passion for vertical farming. Some people are hesitant working with kids, but she just jumped in and made really good connections, got to know them on a personal level, and was also able to help them succeed in this project,” he said.
Semenchuk said after the project, they’ll be having a small open house to show off the systems the kids built and designed to people in the engineering field.
Semenchuk said she’s hoping to expand her efforts to educate people about vertical farming through workshops and other school programs. She hopes to partner with community centres through their leisure guide activities and through whatever other means she can to help achieve her company’s lofty goal of making Winnipeg the world’s beacon of vertical farming.
The company founder’s passion for her topic was evident. She provided myriad reasons to increase our vertical farming capacity: it’s accessible to many; it can be done on scales from one small shelf to whole warehouses full; it’s able to produce leafy greens, strawberries, squash, mushrooms, and more all year round, while Manitoba’s outdoor growing season is a mere 120 days, she said; and it provides greater food security, not least in times of crisis and extreme weather events, which climate change experts predict will occur more and more regularly.
The Little Greenhouse that Could also sells countertop farming systems to help fund its vision. For more information, to contact Semenchuk, or to buy a farming system, visit littlegreenhousethatcould.ca
Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review West. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 204-697-7206.