Clarkson agrees. He calls it a community wellness centre where people come every night during the spring, summer and fall to socialize, to show their children the joys of gardening, and to enjoy the satisfaction of growing vegetables in a place where fresh, economically priced produce isn't always available.
In addition to giving residents personal satisfaction and a great sense of community, the greenhouse has sparked an upsurge in beautification projects and civic pride: flowers grown in the commercial greenhouse are purchased by the Town of Inuvik for 25 hanging baskets every year; the Northwest Territories Housing Authority buys enough bedding plants to fill 200 window boxes; and businesses have planted up pots and boxes to beautify their entranceways.
Community outreach is a key component of the greenhouse. Wenghofer runs up to 10 workshops a year on everything from making good soil to planting a moss basket, an endeavour Carrie Young, who sits on the board of directors and ran the greenhouse for five years, had started. On top of that, 12 plots are set aside for elders and community groups, including the local elementary school, which formed a garden club for kids, run by Ruth Wright, a member of the Gwich'in Nation. A significant number of gardeners come from the Gwich'in Nation and Inuvialuit, which Young finds especially gratifying because aboriginal cultures traditionally put more emphasis on foraging in the wild than cultivating in plots.
Some people, like Morrison and Clarkson, have garden plots because they love having an extended growing season. Others, such as Peggy Jay, do it out of practicality.
"I wanted to grow my own food and cut costs, and not depend so much on the northern stores," says Jay, who has lived in Inuvik for 14 years.
Frustrated that she couldn't always buy what she wanted, Jay began growing kung pao peppers indoors. Now she grows a variety of produce in her home garden and in the greenhouse, including snow peas, bok choy and gai lan (Chinese broccoli). "My parents give me seeds from their Vancouver garden," says Jay. "They think it's funny, since I had no time to garden when I lived there and even hated watering as a kid, because it was a chore."
Greenhouse planting begins in mid-May in full (4.8-by-1.2-metre) or half-sized (2.4-by-1.2-metre) plots. Early-season crops include radishes, lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard. Wenghofer starts heat lovers such as tomatoes, peppers and flowers earlier, raising about 40,000 seedlings and plugs before selling them from the commercial operation. "We don't heat the first floor of the greenhouse," she says, "so I have to start seedlings all over my house." Next year, Wenghofer hopes a heated room will be set up so she can start seedlings on-site.
Although the 2005 gardening season was unusually cloudy and cool, in summer the biggest problem in the greenhouse is excessive heat. With 24-hour sun and poor air circulation (even with modifications, the building was, after all, designed to be an arena) temperatures can get extreme. A recently installed fan circulates air and helps regulate temperatures. People also adapt by watering regularly and choosing seed varieties carefully – such as those of late-season crops that are fast-growing and heat-sensitive – sowing early and avoiding ones that don't work. Morrison, for instance, gave up on broccoli and peas; they bolted on him, so now he grows them at home instead.
Pests are less of a problem, though Young did have trouble with aphids at one point. So she began the practice of ordering parasitic wasps as a control measure. "Unfortunately, this past year they weren't delivered on time so most of them were dead," says Wenghofer. "We had more aphids than wasps." As did Young before her, she discourages the use of pesticides. Instead, people are encouraged to hand-pick the aphids, use insecticidal soap and keep their soil healthy.