Urban Health & Wellbeing

How sewage science can be used to fight Covid-19 and future pandemics

Urban Health & Wellbeing

How sewage science can be used to fight Covid-19 and future pandemics

Beneath the streets of Toronto, there is an untapped resource that has the potential to provide authorities with vital clues about the spread of Covid-19. So far, the burden of tracking and containing the pandemic has been placed on mass testing. But pioneering work below ground could provide municipalities with a powerful new tool.

As Ryerson professors Kimberley Gilbride and Claire Oswald are keen to point out, no one can opt out of contributing to the sewage system. And in the fight against a deadly virus, this universal truth could offer a much-needed early warning system.

Evidence suggests that the virus can be picked up in samples of wastewater up to two weeks before clinical testing measures are able to detect that a new outbreak is on the way. Few cities around the world routinely conduct this kind of sewage monitoring, but in Toronto, Gilbride and Oswald are establishing a system that could be used during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.

Targeting the communities most at risk

Since the beginning of the pandemic, predicting the spread of Covid-19 through urban areas has been a hugely challenging task. It’s made particularly difficult by the fact a person can be infected without knowing it for several days before they develop symptoms. Yet in this time, individuals are shedding traces of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, via visits to the washroom.

1,200 megalitres
Amount of wastewater that’s treated in Toronto each day

As the pandemic picked up pace in spring 2020, Gilbride and Oswald began to hear of cities attempting to track the virus in wastewater. With decades of combined experience in urban water research, they realized they were in the perfect position to experiment with these techniques in Toronto.

“Before all this happened, nobody wanted to talk about poop,” says Gilbride, a professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry. “But now people are realizing it’s not such a funny topic — it’s actually a serious topic.”

Gilbride and Oswald contacted other groups in Canada who were beginning to consider the wastewater approach, and built a team comprising other members of the Ryerson Urban Water research centre. In July 2020, they received support from the Ryerson Covid-19 SRC Response Fund, enabling them to begin the ambitious project. They also partnered with Toronto Public Health, Public Health Ontario and Toronto Water.

The unique thing about what we’ve proposed is that, while a lot of groups have stuck to the wastewater treatment plants, we are moving upstream into different communities, which opens up more end uses of the data if we are able to track the virus in those smaller areas.
Claire Oswald, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

As Gilbride made preparations for testing samples in her lab, Oswald applied her expertise as an urban hydrologist to begin analyzing Toronto’s sewage network to understand how the virus would flow around the city. Extending the work being done by researchers elsewhere, the Ryerson team decided to test not only wastewater treatment plants, but also to head upstream. This would allow them to monitor the presence of the virus on a community level.

“The unique thing about what we’ve proposed is that, while a lot of groups have stuck to the wastewater treatment plants, we are moving upstream into different communities, which opens up more end uses of the data if we are able to track the virus in those smaller areas,” says Oswald, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

Creating a complementary tool

Gilbride and Oswald began with monthly sampling at one of Toronto’s four wastewater plants and, by successfully getting positive test results for the presence of the virus, have confirmed that their system works. They are now finalizing their procedures in their upstream sampling sites and preparing to begin weekly testing. The data gathered from this sampling will be sent to their public health partners, complementing intelligence gained from clinical testing and modelling.

three researchers wearing masks and distanced from each other standing on a grass patch by the road
Professor Claire Oswald (left) and members of her research team at one of the research sites, where automatic sampling equipment will be installed to collect wastewater for analysis in labs at Ryerson University

In addition to showing that a sample of wastewater contains SARS-CoV-2, the researchers’ system can also indicate differences in virus levels between two samples. With regular monitoring of wastewater, it is therefore possible to tell if a particular neighbourhood is experiencing an increase in the amount of virus circulating in its local network.

“If all of a sudden you see a rise in one of the markers you’re looking at, then you can try to find out what is happening and maybe try to rectify the problem before it becomes a bigger problem,” says Gilbride.

Number of wastewater treatment plants in Toronto

A potential application of this system would be to help give public health authorities an idea of which locations they should target for enhanced clinical testing. With cities only able to conduct a certain number of tests per day, this could be crucial in the management of stretched resources. “We know there are strains on the system when everybody is going to get tested and this could be a way to relieve some of that strain,” explains Oswald.

Although Gilbride and Oswald are currently focused on tackling Covid-19, they say that sewershed surveillance — monitoring wastewater in neighbourhood-level sewer networks — could be adapted to monitor many other substances, like drugs and bacteria. The researchers believe that with enough funding it could be possible to develop a coordinated provincial or even national network for the technique.

“We’re building up the expertise and the infrastructure to contribute to a broader scale sewage surveillance network, whether that’s provincial or national,” says Oswald.

With other researchers in Ontario now working on their own sewage surveillance, labs in different locations are able to share results and corroborate protocols. These efforts are being aided through support from the Canadian Water Network. Gilbride says working with people with varied expertise, both within Ryerson and elsewhere, has been a crucial component of their success so far.

“It’s a real collaboration because we’re all doing it to get this pandemic under control and hopefully leave society with a tool that can be used in the future for many other things,” says Gilbride.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

How to maintain social connection in long-term care facilities during pandemics

Urban Health & Wellbeing

How to maintain social connection in long-term care facilities during pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on Canadians from all age groups with more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the virus. In long-term care homes across Ontario and the country, staff have faced the tension of balancing residents’ safety from the disease with their ability to maintain social connections with family and friends.

Just a few months into the pandemic, a large portion of Canada’s COVID-19-related deaths — over 80 per cent — were among residents of nursing or retirement homes. During Ontario’s early response in March, the Chief Medical Officer of Health recommended that only essential visitors be allowed into long-term care facilities and issued directives prohibiting residents from leaving to visit family and friends. Family visits in long-term care homes were allowed to restart in late June, but included rules such as outdoor visits and physical distancing. 

The importance of relational care

Relational care is the care that addresses the importance of human connectedness for overall well-being. In the case of residents living in long-term care homes, family and friends can also offer insights about the life, health and well-being, and care preferences of the older person to health-care providers. Because of the global health crisis that has been created by the Covid-19 pandemic, providing relational care has been a challenge.

Two Ryerson researchers from the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing have teamed up to examine these challenges and to find out how health-care providers have overcome them. Sepali Guruge and Lori Schindel Martin, along with a team of researchers and partners, will identify innovative strategies that can be deployed to create opportunities to maintain relational care as the Covid-19 global health crisis continues and in the event of future outbreaks. 

Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing building
Ryerson’s Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex opened in the fall of 2019

“It’s the background story of the older person that’s absolutely critical,” says Schindel Martin, adding that family members help to provide that background story for the older person living in long-term care. Relatives have often developed skills in caring for their loved one, which has frequently gone untapped during the pandemic as access to one other was limited. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, the researchers say, the impact of good relational care and how it is provided was misunderstood. 

It’s sometimes perceived that relational care is a happy accident instead of a result of the complex standards and competencies that are part of the skill sets of health-care providers such as gerontological nurses. “The public may not be aware of the skills and research-informed best practice knowledge that these wonderful interpersonal strategies are based upon,” says Schindel Martin.

of Covid-19 deaths were among residents of nursing or retirement homes

Social connections aren’t just nice to have for residents living in long-term care homes. They are critical to their well-being. “We can’t ignore the powerful impact that social isolation has on people in general, and older persons in particular. Social isolation can result in a range of short and long-term physical and mental health problems that can lead to early death,” says Guruge.

There can be difficulties in providing relational care during the pandemic. Many residents of long-term care homes may have cognitive impairments that affect their ability to initiate social engagement, which means staff, friends and family need to initiate or facilitate these engagements. Staff working in long-term care homes have had to try and balance allowing residents to socialize with each other and their family members and friends while keeping residents safe from those who may be infected and asymptomatic, a process Schindel Martin says can be complex. 

There’s also the potential confusion stemming from a visitor’s need to wear personal protective equipment, something Guruge says can make residents wonder if they’re having a bad dream when they cannot recognize their loved ones or their voices. This study will help to identify strategies, for example methods families have successfully used to make themselves known and understood by their loved ones when PPE makes them unrecognizable.

The pair says many health-care providers and family members are still striving to create meaningful moments of connection for long-term care home residents. “What we’re trying to understand is how we can do more of that,” says Guruge. She and Schindel Martin aim to capture the approaches that have brought such moments about, as well as highlight areas for improvement. 

someone having a video call on a tablet with an older Black couple
Health-care providers and family members are striving to create meaningful moments of connection for long-term care home residents

Creating guidelines for future pandemics and outbreaks 

As part of their research, Guruge and Schindel Martin will interview health-care providers and family members of older persons in care. Their findings could influence future policy directions as well as provide strategies for health-care providers to maintain relational care. Additionally, they seek to develop resources for health-care providers to help safeguard their own mental health and well-being during the pandemic. These resources may assist in future retention of health-care providers in long-term care homes or in other settings that focus on the care and well-being of older persons. 

We can’t ignore the powerful impact that social isolation has on people in general, and older persons in particular. Social isolation can result in a range of short and long-term physical and mental health problems that can lead to early death.
Sepali Guruge, Professor and Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing Research Chair in Urban Health

The strategies will aim to go beyond the individual health-care practitioner and family level to create best practice guidelines that could influence how facilities and even cities and neighbourhoods consider relational care and help to avoid some of the challenges that took place in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as visits being cancelled or some residents being restrained. 

Their findings will be applicable both during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as during future disease outbreaks, whether it’s another pandemic or the annual influenza season that can lead to closed doors. “Every fall, there are long-term care homes where there is an outbreak because of the flu,” says Schindel Martin. 

The work they are undertaking will examine the creative strategies used to deliver relational care during this global health crisis to help ensure that during the ongoing pandemic and in future disease outbreaks the residents of long-term care homes can continue to have the social connections that are crucial to their health and well-being. 

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Health care will be less invasive and more personalized

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Health care will be less invasive and more personalized

In Canada, we’re living longer and healthier lives than ever. While Covid-19 offers a stark warning about complacency, contemporary life expectancy is aided by both modern drugs that prevent or treat illnesses and as a result of innovative diagnostic tools and procedures that have been developed for medical conditions that were a curse for previous generations.

Research at Ryerson that is leading to sophisticated approaches to detecting and treating diseases or managing pain are aimed at further improving our quality of life and longevity.

They can also contribute to the Canadian economy by reducing productivity that’s lost through sickness or poor health, delivering more efficient and cost-effective methods of treating diseases, and creating openings for startups to thrive here as a step towards expanding into global markets, where they can help improve the care — and lives — of an even greater number of people.

Making the medicine of science fiction a reality

There is a growing need in our healthcare system for diagnostic and therapeutic techniques that are less invasive yet more accurate, and with a lower cost compared with traditional methods.

For medical physics professor Jahan Tavakkoli, a solution lies in various applications of ultrasound — a field he is advancing as part of the Faculty of Science at Ryerson. His research spans a range of innovative approaches, including the use of high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) for the treatment of malignant solid tumors in cancer patients, as well as nerve ablation (destruction) and manipulation for pain management and anesthesia.

“Under proper imaging guidance and treatment monitoring, HIFU can be used effectively in a number of non- and minimally invasive surgical procedures,” says Tavakkoli.

two researchers in a lab
Jahan Tavakkoli in the iBEST lab with postdoctoral research staff, Dr. Elyas Shaswary

In fact, his work in developing applications of ultrasound in medicine and biology could have far-reaching implications.

“It could be beneficial in developed countries, as it provides a more efficient treatment modality with fewer side effects, but also in under-developed countries with limited resources, given it provides a cost-effective and simple solution for certain therapies and diagnostics,” Tavakkoli adds.

82.52 years
Projected life expectancy in Canada for 2020 (the number was 77.20 in 1990)

Another high-profile project for which Tavakkoli is the principal investigator is also at the cutting edge of science and technology. A collaboration between Ryerson and Toronto-based Tree of Knowledge International aims to develop a new nanotechnology-enhanced delivery method for medical cannabis.

The ultimate goal is to create treatments for a variety of medical conditions. Fellow physics professor Michael Kolios is co-principal investigator for the project.

“The nanocarriers we are developing, which will be coated with two different types of cannabinoid molecules, will be employed in targeted drug delivery applications using our proprietary therapeutic ultrasound technology to achieve a novel and effective method in treating cancerous tumours as well as pain,” Tavakkoli explained when the project was announced in July 2019.

What he’s talking about sounds like the far-out medicine of science fiction, except it’s happening today.

The number of microbial cells in the human gut than in the rest of the human body, totaling roughly 100 trillion microbes representing as many as 5,000 different species

Understanding — and treating — gut reactions

The human gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria living in our digestive tracts to break down food we ingest and release important molecules in the process. Research shows that an abundance of health conditions are linked to unbalanced gut bacteria, including digestive, metabolic and mood disorders and autoimmune diseases; however, more work is needed to help scientists understand more fully their cause and effect relationships.

To develop therapeutics and prevention strategies, it is also useful to know more about the specific populations of bacteria present in individuals. For that reason, microbiome profiling has been on the rise in recent years as a way to identify the community of gut bacteria that may be contributing to someone’s symptoms.

“We track an individual’s microbiome over time and monitor changes in the population of bacteria, as well as self-reported symptoms during the same period,” explains biologist Aly Burtch, co-founder and managing director of uBioDiscovery, a Toronto-based firm that offers personalized microbiome monitoring kits to individuals.

“As an added feature, we also provide dietary suggestions for users to help them identify the foods that trigger their symptoms.”

gloved hands touching a microbiome monitoring kit
SUPERBIOME is a personalized microbiome monitoring program that provides you with a complete analysis of the bacterial community living inside your gut

uBioDiscovery grew out of Ryerson’s Science and Discovery Zone, one of 10 on-campus zones for startups, causes or projects. According to Burtch, she and co-founder Alejandro Saettone, the company’s director of research and development, were able to pursue the venture without having to sacrifice their educational goals. Indeed, both Burtch and Saettone were able to complete graduate degrees while also building the business.

We track an individual’s microbiome over time and monitor changes in the population of bacteria, as well as self-reported symptoms during the same period.
Aly Burtch, Co-founder and Managing Director of uBioDiscovery

“Microbiome research is relatively new, but rapidly advancing,” Burtch says of the opportunity they are pursuing. The company hopes its data contributes to the field and brings medical science a step closer to replacing current solutions for gut-related conditions, which include long-term prescription medication use, elimination dieting and over-the-counter supplements.

“Those solutions are often expensive and can cause unpleasant physical side effects and even significant emotional distress,” Burtch notes.

In the meantime, uBioDiscovery is looking at ways to improve the data it gathers for analysis.

“Although our users provide a food log, it is not enforced. We would love to partner with an organization that can track user diets strictly over time, while we monitor their microbiome, to really gauge how different foods influence the community of gut bacteria on a case-by-case basis.”

As allergies, digestive and metabolic disorders continue to rise in North America and elsewhere, uBioDiscovery’s mission has added importance.

If we’re able to shape a healthy microbiome early in life, for example, it could equip our bodies with the tools needed to prevent a variety of conditions later on.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

A society should be judged on how successfully its seniors age

Urban Health & Wellbeing

A society should be judged on how successfully its seniors age

There are now more adults in Canada over the age of 65 than children who are 14 and under. But while we’re living longer and healthier lives, we’re not prepared — individually or collectively — to deal with the consequences of this fundamental and unstoppable shift in demographics. Among the many lessons the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is that we need to take better care of our aging population.

It’s not that we need to find ways to turn back the clock for those in their senior years. A more realistic and desirable goal is to enable more Canadians to age successfully. We can also do more to acknowledge the wisdom and social capital that older adults can contribute. That will require us to recognize and remove barriers that can limit seniors from fully participating in society.

Research and advocacy supported by Ryerson are confronting those and other pressing challenges to create a better future for all Canadians.

Motivation is key to longer mental health

Social scientists and the general public often dwell on negative aspects of ageing. By the middle of this century, for example, seniors will make up 25 percent of the country’s population. There is anxiety — some of it justified — around how such a large cohort will adapt and the stresses it will place on the country’s social fabric.

But there is also an opportunity to focus on the positive potential associated with the greying of our society. For example, when it comes to learning and memory, older adults perform as well as — and sometimes better than — those who are much younger in tasks that are personally meaningful and rewarding.

For psychologist Julia Spaniol, a key question is how we can tap into the motivation of seniors to improve their attention, memory and intellectual engagement. Her work through the Memory and Decision Processes (MAD) Lab at Ryerson includes studying the brain mechanisms that are responsible for the effects of incentive on cognition.

seven researchers smiling at the camera
Julia Spaniol pictured centre with members of the Memory and Decision Processes Lab

“The knowledge we gain from this research helps shed light on how we can motivate people to build mental and behavioural habits that allow them to stay healthy longer,” Spaniol explains. “It also highlights best practices for workplaces that employ seniors, and for institutions that cater to older adults.”

Research in the MAD Lab is currently supported by a combination of government programs, grants and awards intended to promote innovation, but there is an opportunity to partner with other organizations that are eager to contribute to Canada’s leadership in understanding what’s needed for healthy ageing.

Ideally, too, Spaniol would like to build on her work by studying a multigenerational group of individuals over a period of 10 to 20 years. “That kind of study would give us extremely rich insights into the interplay between motivation and cognition across adulthood,” she says.

“Ageing is universal. It affects us all, and so our work is relevant for everyone, everywhere,” she adds.

That said, science shows that some people age better than others. And according to Spaniol, a point that should be added is this: communities in which everyone has access to key resources such as education are those in which more people will age with their sense of purpose intact.

Ageing is universal. It affects us all, and so our work is relevant for everyone, everywhere.
Julia Spaniol, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Aging, Director of the Memory and Decision Processes (MAD) Lab

Thought leadership for age-related interests is crucial

The effects of Canada’s ageing population are already visible, and how they will continue to be a concern can be anticipated.

Individuals will need help planning for and funding longer periods in retirement. Governments and institutions will need to reassess long-standing approaches to public policy and systems geared towards older people, including those that relate to health care and income support. Employers will need to prepare for an increasing number of people who wish — and need — to work beyond age 65.

Those are just a few of the complex and interrelated realities that a unique Ryerson think tank was created to address. The National Institute on Ageing (NIA), established in 2016, is the only organization of its kind in Canada.

“We work at the intersection of health care, financial security and social well-being in bringing greater awareness and understanding of ageing issues in Canada,” explains Michael Nicin, the institute’s executive director.

Although still young, the organization is clearly making a difference.

During the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the NIA quickly mobilized to create the first and only publicly available online data platform and heat map to track the spread of COVID-19 throughout all retirement and nursing homes across Canada.

a speaker at a podium with panel speakers on stage
Dr. Samir Sinha speaking and Michael Nicin, of NIA, moderating at Ontario Long Term Care Association conference

The NIA’s work showed that Canada’s systems of long-term care are in urgent need of reform, with 80% of all COVID deaths having occurred in these long-term care (LTC) settings – a higher rate than in any comparable OECD country. The Institute, under the leadership of Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Health Policy Research, also issued a series of expert guidance documents that various governments and LTC providers used to make difficult decisions in the early days of COVID, when evidence and best practices were elusive and evolving.

One such document, which aimed to help families decide whether or not to remove elderly loved ones from care, was downloaded over 10,000 times by people facing a difficult decision in a time of crisis.

Number of times the NIA’s Decision Aids for Residents and Families of Long-Term Care Facilities has been downloaded

“In the past two years alone, we’ve directly influenced public policy in several areas, convened countless experts and stakeholders at Ryerson to drive consensus on various issues, and released or co-released 12 reports, while our public outreach through presentations and media exposure has helped the NIA propel its message far and wide,” Nicin adds.

“We benefit from the institutional support of Ryerson, as well as from its stellar reputation as a leading-edge university with a focus on real-world impact,” says Nicin. “That opens doors to new partnerships and opportunities that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

Indeed, in the coming years, Nicin expects the institute will work even more closely with governments and industry partners to generate unique research and insights that will guide sound decision-making as the transition to an increasingly older population continues.

“There’s more work ahead of us than behind us,” he acknowledges.

That’s an understatement. The growing number of seniors in Canada will make direct advocacy, public outreach, convening and consensus-building around their interests — cornerstones of the NIA’s efforts so far — more important than ever.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Food security has never been more challenging — and important

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Food security has never been more challenging — and important

A report released earlier this year by the United Nations acknowledges that the number of people affected by hunger globally has been on the rise since 2014. “Latest estimates suggest that 9.7 percent of the world population (slightly less than 750 million people) was exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019,” the report notes in its executive summary. And that was before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which, it’s suggested, could add “between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world.”

Food insecurity and hunger won’t be solved overnight, but research at Ryerson is contributing to a better understanding of the challenges they present, as well as practical solutions that are improving access to food for people today, with the potential for even more in the future.

Addressing the fundamentals of food security

Throughout its 25-year existence, Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security (CSFS) has understood the matter it investigates as one defined by “Five A’s” — availability, accessibility, adequacy, acceptability and agency.

“Working with this comprehensive view has differentiated the work we do at the CSFS from the approaches taken by other scholars and research centres,” explains Cecilia Rocha, the centre’s director.

“In particular, our insistence that agency, which is achieved through democratic policies and processes, is needed for food security is significant. Overall, the field of food security has been dominated by researchers emphasizing either the need for food production to improve availability, or poverty reduction to increase accessibility. While those are certainly necessary conditions for food security, on their own they are not sufficient.”

of the global population were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019

Rocha’s perspective comes after many years of academic study and international experience. Over the past two decades, for example, she has worked with colleagues in Brazil to examine policies and civil society initiatives for food security in that country. She’s drawn special attention to pioneering efforts in the city of Belo Horizonte.

More recently, she and colleagues at the CSFS partnered with researchers at the National Institute of Nutrition in Vietnam on a project to improve nutrition and food security for children in that country.

“I am a firm believer in knowledge exchange between countries and different communities,” Rocha says. “If funding were not an issue, I would like to see us collaborate with more people in different settings, so we can learn about their experiences in attempting to deal with food insecurity. There is so much good work being done around the world. But we need to see and understand those positive outcomes — and then share our findings — so that others might benefit from them, as well.”

While field work is likely to be hampered for some time due to travel restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19, other research can continue. Indeed, how a pandemic affects the Five A’s of Food Security will need to be examined.

In fact, there is a lot of work to do still, as long as we hold fast to the notion that through collective efforts the future can deliver access to food for all.

dome structures
Arviat, Nunavut’s “Double Dome” greenhouses

Growing food in Canada’s North

The twin problems of food security and hunger are not experienced only by people living in third-world countries or in war-torn parts of the world. In fact, for many Indigenous peoples and those who are homeless in cities across Canada, the problems are daily experiences.

Additional vulnerabilities were exposed as the country shut down in response to Covid-19. Supply chains that were disrupted and difficulties hiring foreign seasonal workers needed in the agricultural sector resulted in shortages and rising food prices. For many in the country’s urban areas who lost jobs as a result of the pandemic, resorting to food banks for help was a shocking wake-up call.

of children in Northern Canada face food insecurity

Canada’s North presents its own, unique challenges for food security in the best of circumstances. The hard permafrost removes the ability to plant anything in the soil in most places, and limited sunlight in the winter months makes year-round growing difficult. Almost everything appearing on grocery store shelves is imported by air — at considerable expense — as a result.

Several years ago, two Ryerson students set out to address the problem of growing food in northern climates. Stefany Nieto and Benjamin Canning were studying in the Ted Rogers School of Management when they came up with the idea of applying hydroponic growing in a dome-shaped greenhouse. They tested a proof of concept in Naujaat, Nunavut, in 2015. They later built domes in other Nunavut communities and northern Quebec. After graduating, the pair founded the charitable organization Green Iglu, to ensure that the project continued.

a man inside a greenhouse
Green Iglu Co-founder, Ben Canning, working inside the Growing Domes in Naujaat

“The biggest driver behind our operation is ensuring that food production can thrive in regions that typically can’t accommodate agriculture, whether it’s due to the climate or a lack of general agricultural knowledge,” says Nieto, who is now Green Iglu’s executive director, while Canning serves as chief technology officer.

The biggest driver behind our operation is ensuring that food production can thrive in regions that typically can’t accommodate agriculture, whether it’s due to the climate or a lack of general agricultural knowledge.
Stefany Nieto, Executive Director of Green Iglu

The Green Iglu team is currently exploring renewable energy sources for powering lighting and heating systems throughout the cold Canadian winter, while also focusing on educational programming to keep up with their technology.

The incorporation of root vegetables into food production using raised soil beds is another key differentiator.

“The most important factor in all of this is ownership of the infrastructure,” Nieto adds. “The greenhouses are not owned by our organization, but rather the community itself. We simply provide the growing systems, education, training and maintenance, so that the greenhouses can eventually reach independent sustainability and can operate without our direct oversight.”

For all the practical aspects of the venture, it could also see unexpected benefits. Northern produce growers could see their roots and vegetables embraced by southern consumers for their esoteric value. That would help sustain growing operations in the North, and ensure continued food security at its source, where it is needed most.