Researchers: Domestically produced products could be part of the solution to the lettuce shortage in the Netherlands


Lindsay Bird/CBCLindsay Bird/CBC

Lindsay Bird/CBC

The lettuce shortage in Newfoundland and Labrador is linked to problems on the other side of the continent – namely drought and plant diseases in California – but an agricultural and commodity economist says solutions can be found closer to home.

Catherine Keske, a professor at the University of California, said Friday she was not surprised to hear about the lettuce shortage in Newfoundland and Labrador because the province relies on imports.

“When you lose control of your food resources and you depend on exports from all over the world and there is disruption in that part of the world, you are in a situation where there is nothing you can do about it,” she said in an interview with CBC News.

Cost is the main reason the province imports so much of its food; climate is another, Keske said.

Keske book, Food futureworks on food security and food sovereignty in Newfoundland and Labrador. She was formerly a lecturer at the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University and now lives in California – where she experienced the drought first hand.

“Water availability is an issue and will make things unpredictable. I think the most stable thing would be if Newfoundland and Labrador could grow these products in their own province,” she said.

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Although Newfoundland and Labrador relies on its supply chain, Keske says there are ways for the province to gain some control over its fruit and vegetable supply, such as through indoor production.

Avoid the weather

Across the province, farmers are already exploring new ways to grow food in Newfoundland and Labrador's often unforgiving climate, including using hydroponics.

Green Head Growers is a hydroponic farm on the Port au Port peninsula that primarily produces lettuce. Co-founder and co-operator Timothy Collier said the farm harvests 800 heads of lettuce per week and plans to expand to about 6,000 heads of lettuce next year.

“Our soil is poor, the climate is generally poor. Controlled environment farming and hydroponic technology allow us to grow crops all year round,” he said.

Collier said he would like to see more people get into farming, but acknowledged that getting started is challenging. In the early stages about two years ago, Green Head Growers had trouble finding material for its complex hydroponic system.

Dwight Budden is co-founder of Living Water Indoor Farm, a controlled environment indoor farm in Stag Harbour on Fogo Island. Budden said he started the farm with his father, Hayward, because he was concerned about food shortages in the province.

“Food safety is a real problem and has been for a long time,” he said.

Melissa Tobin/CBCMelissa Tobin/CBC

Melissa Tobin/CBC

He said he was not surprised that there is currently a shortage of imported lettuce.

“When we do manage to find product, the quality here in Newfoundland, especially here in one of the smaller areas and outport communities, leaves a lot to be desired most of the year,” he said.

The farm, which grows a variety of lettuces, herbs and other greens, started as a hobby but has now grown into a full-time operation, Budden says. The produce is fresher because it doesn't have to travel thousands of miles to get to store shelves.

Budden said he would like to see more support from the provincial government for other small farmers who are just starting out.

“Supporting local farmers is much cheaper than supporting a health system when our population is forced to eat a lot of poor quality food or so-called junk food because they have no other choice or cannot afford the good stuff,” he said.

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