By fall there will be fresh, locally-grown produce in La Loche for the high school’s breakfast and lunch programs and the wider community, thanks to a modular farm the size of a shipping container.

Students from Dene High School are training to grow and harvest their own produce using a $220,000 modular farm they’ll receive through a grant from President’s Choice Children’s Charity.

The farm will arrive in the community in the coming months and last week, five students and three staff members were in Toronto for training.

Grade 10 student Brelanda Montgrand said she was expecting a greenhouse but was surprised by the size and capacity of the farm.

Grade 10 student Raynimae Fontaine says she wants to teach others how to plant and grow their own food. (CBC)

She said she’s looking forward to working as a team with her fellow students to produce healthier food for the community.

Sometimes access to fresh food can be an issue in the area. The North West Company food store in La Loche burned down in April; the company has relocated grocery sales to its other dry goods store in the community.

“It’s really expensive and you could just throw some fish sticks into the oven and fries because it’s easier, instead of making a nutritious meal,” Montgrand said.

Learning and then teaching others

RaynimaeFontaine, who’s also in Grade 10, said she hopes the idea catches on in the community.

“[We’ll] be able to show people how to plant if they want to make some kind of garden in their yard,” she said.

“It’s something that we’ve never had before at the school and we get to learn how to get it up and running and start planting everything and be able to harvest them … and actually eat them.”

The unit, developed by Modular Farms Co., contains a workspace for planting and harvesting and four vertical walls of produce which are sustained by automated lighting, heating and watering systems. It is built for a northern environment.

The unit, developed by Modular Farms Co., is the size of a shipping container. (CBC)

The system uses 95 per cent less water than a typical farm and can produce up to 1,000 heads of lettuce or 6,000 plum tomatoes per week.

Principal Greg Hatch said the food will supply the school’s breakfast and lunch program. He expects to see other benefits as well.

“It definitely supports the academic program. It also gives us the opportunity to be entrepreneurs,” said Hatch.

Art students at the school will also have the opportunity to decorate the farm’s exterior.