Cold Cuts: Home-Grown Arctic Food

By Prof Ilan Kelman
Image by Ilan Kelman. 

Prof Ilan Kelman
Professor of Disasters and Health, University College London, UK
Professor II, University of Agder, Norway

Could greenhouses grow food in the Arctic, especially during the long winters? Iceland certainly tries—or so states the myth about growing (or going?) bananas.

Iceland has ample geothermal energy for heating. Even so, light remains a significant inhibitor for growing greenhouse food around the island. And most of the country still receives some sun during the shortest day!

Imagine trying above the Arctic Circle with 24 hours of darkness for days, weeks, or months. With enough power, it might be feasible to supply the light and heat needed. That could add costs and reduce sustainability.

Where year-round renewable energy is available locally, as exists in many places in Iceland, prospects are improved for Arctic greenhouses. They could supplement diets, not necessarily giving self-sufficiency, but at least helping to reduce imports. Micro-greenhouses could be tested on balconies, on roofs, and in small gardens—even indoors since people have light and heat in their swellings anyway.

How robust are the outdoor structures? Would a greenhouse kept above freezing indoors survive gale-force Arctic winds giving a wind chill of -40 (same in Fahrenheit and Celsius)? Would insects and other small animals (not just elves and trolls) seek the greenhouses for a free, warm, and fully catered home?

Would the resulting food be worth the effort? Could it be scaled up for livestock, fish, or seafood—or should that idea be a non-starter in order to support vegetarian diets? As eating insects increases in popularity, are cold-weather greenhouses suitable for them? Could larger initiatives segue into permaculture, which is already being implemented from Alaska to Svalbard?

If year-round Arctic greenhouses do succeed at any scale, then it is not just about the joy of tropical fruit in the cold. It is about improving sustainability and localization in northern latitudes which, in turn, helps us all.

Arctic food

Arctic Food

Prof Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and UCL Institute for Global Health, UK, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. He focuses mainly on polar regions and island communities.

This article has been published by Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. 

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.
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