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Researcher looking at cost effectiveness, commercial viability of growing food locally


Catherine Keske hasn’t been in the province very long, but she already knows enough to say the weather here is predictably unpredictable.

Catherine Keske is an associate professor of environmental studies and part of the Boreal Ecosystem Research Initiative at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland in Corner Brook. She and her colleagues are trying to cultivate commercial agricultural research in areas that will make Newfoundland take better control of its food source.

Keske is an associate professor of environmental studies (economics) and part of the Boreal Ecosystem Research Initiative at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland in Corner Brook. As an economist, she’s involved in agriculture and forest economics research at the campus.

She came here from Colorado and is used to the “hunker-down” mentality and taking precautionary measures in times of adverse weather.

She said the issues the province is facing right now in terms of its transportation links — delays on both the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Strait of Belle Isle ferry services — is a reminder when it comes to the dependence on the outside for food and other supplies.

“We’re vulnerable, we’re fragile,” Keske said Tuesday.

It’s during a long winter, such as this one, that Keske said thoughts turn to how to prevent this down the road.

In the short-term Keske said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are resilient people. “Plan ahead, prepare for disruption, try not to stockpile more than you need and shared with those who do need it.”

In the long-run though she and her colleagues are trying to cultivate commercial agricultural research in areas that will make Newfoundland take better control of its food source.

“It’s a harsh climate, but it’s not a unique climate when your look throughout the globe,” she said. “So by figuring out how to do agriculture in a cost-effective manner we can lead the world. But immediately we need to make sure that we are helping improve the supply of goods and merchandise for Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Keske has a project pending with Agrifoods Canada that will look at the profitability of corn, potatoes and wheat rotation. Her focus is to determine is something like that would be commercially viable here.

She’s also looking at food security and food sovereignty and answering the question if we grow our food here, can we do it in a more cost effective manner.

“I don’t know that we can, but I’m really going to try and see under what circumstances we can.”

Keske said a focus should be on the things the province does well and she pointed to the fishery, seals and berries as classic examples of that.

She also said being dependant on a ferry brings in a different type of transportation issue that to solve has to look to technological innovation.

“If we can kind of crack this transportation nut ... I think we can go a long ways to improving the availability of food in the province.”  

Twitter:@WS_DianeCrocker

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