When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in March 2020, Chris Shaver found himself temporarily laid off from his job as a welder at the Ekati diamond mine. With free time on his hands, he turned to grow microgreens—young seedlings of vegetables—as a hobby.

Two years on, Shaver and his partner, Nicolinea Minakis, are running a business, Northern Greens. Based out of Hay River, the couple has a 300-square-foot space on their home property where they grow shelves of microgreens using vertical farming techniques. Customers can place orders, which they receive on harvest days. Or they can subscribe to a service where, for $40 a month, Shaver and Minakis will deliver three varieties of plants each week.

“Nicolinea and I love it, not only as a business but as a nice hobby,” Shaver says, “especially in long winters in the North. We have our own little refuge in our grow room with the temperature and humidity controlled… it smells like summer with all our plants. It’s a morale boost for us just growing it, eating it for ourselves, and sharing with the community.”

With mono-crop farming, the heavy lifting comes at the beginning of the growing season. After that, you essentially leave the crops on their own until it’s time to harvest. Microgreens, in contrast, don’t require as much brawn, but they do need careful management. “With controlled environment agriculture, we have to plant every Tuesday,” Shaver explains. “But before planting, we have to make sure everything is prepped and clean… Every day, we hand-water the plants and inspect everyone. We harvest every week. It’s not as hard labor as mass monoculture, but it’s a steady pace that never ends.”

That said, growing the plants is the easier part of running Northern Greens, Shaver says. “The most complicated part is the bureaucracy of everything, as far as growing the business. As well as the logistics and the health and safety paperwork. But we keep on top of it all.”

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