Growing Greens In the Arctic
May 25th, 2017 by Will Anderson

Joe Carr of Kotzebue, Alaska, is the only professional farmer north of the Arctic Circle. That will likely change when containerized hydroponics farms, such as this one designed by Vertical Harvest, become more prevalent.

Walking from the snowbound streets of Kotzebue, Alaska, into the Arctic Greens container is like being suddenly transported to the Amazon jungle.

Even when it is pitch black and below zero outside, the “sun” still rises, thanks to rows of high-­tech LED lights. Heaters keep temperatures a balmy 65 to 80 F. Rows of big, green plants line shelves the length of the container, leaves crowding the narrow walkway down the center.

This is where Joe Carr, the only professional farmer north of the Arctic Circle, comes to work.

The first thing he does after removing his jacket is check the computers that were programmed by Vertical Harvest—the company that designed the containerized farm. They control every aspect of this miniature ecosystem and keep it optimized for edible plant growth.

The Arctic Greens farm in Kotzebue is the Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp.’s first step in an ambitious plan to provide locally grown produce to AC Stores throughout the Arctic. For now, the farm’s produce is sold exclusively in the Kotezebue AC Store.
If it works, more containerized farms will follow.

“The project has been extremely successful,” Joe says. “We harvest 450 plants every week, and they’ve been very popular in town. Before Arctic Greens, fresh vegetables and herbs were not good quality because they have to be shipped in, or they’re expensive—or both.”

Joe is an unlikely person to possess the job title “Arctic farmer.” The Pennsylvania native had been working as a mechanic in Philadelphia when he struck up a friendship with Dood Lincoln over the internet. Dood’s work took her to Philly several times, which allowed the couple to meet—and fall in love.
Marriage and a move to Kotzebue followed.

After training from Vertical Harvest and KIC, Joe is now a hydroponic­farming expert, tending to the plants from seed to when they are fully mature and ready to eat. He is also the company’s delivery guy, cutting and bundling the plants, then driving them to the AC Store in his wife’s car.

“KIC is working on getting a delivery van,” Joe says with a laugh. “Especially during the winter, we need something that will ensure the plants stay warm. But it’s only about a block from the container to the AC Store, so I get it there in just a couple minutes.”

After nine months in operation, the farm is successfully producing a variety of herbs and vegetables, including butter­leaf lettuce, romaine, red­ leaf lettuce, red and green mustard, basil, cilantro, chives, parsley and mint. The most popular item is green ­leaf lettuce.

In addition, Arctic Greens is trying to grow other produce such as kale, but has not yet arrived at the best balance to grow it in regular quantities.

The response in Kotzebue to regularly having fresh produce has been overwhelmingly positive.

“My wife, the first time she purchased some at the AC Store, she’d never gotten fresh greens before,” Joe says, “and Arctic Greens crops are grown right here in Kotzebue, which has never happened before. It was kind of a milestone for her. Everything’s good about it.”

The biggest challenge is power. With its artificial lighting eight hours every day and around­-the­-clock heating, the hydroponic system devours a lot of electricity, which is expensive in Kotzebue, as it is in any rural Alaska community.

This affects the price of the end product on store shelves, so KIC is investigating the potential for solar or another alternative energy source, which hopefully will lower prices for customers.

The two main reasons KIC started Arctic Greens were to provide fresh produce to rural communities at affordable prices, and to find solutions—such as alternative energy—that are just as innovative as the original concept.

“If you told me when I was living in Philadelphia that a small community way up in the Arctic would be able to regularly provide its people with fresh vegetables and herbs grown right there, I never would have believed it,” Joe says. “KIC is really doing a great thing for local people with Arctic Greens.”

Arctic Greens hopes to double down on its benefits to shareholders by expanding to other communities and increasing revenues.

Then again, that would mean Joe might lose his title as the only professional Arctic farmer. Joe doesn’t mind. He hopes KIC has dozens of Arctic farmers someday.

For more information about Arctic Greens or hydroponic gardening in the Arctic, visit www.kikiktagruk.com/shareholders/hydroponics or www.verticalharvesthydroponics.com.