This community is known as the Energetic City and it comes by the slogan honestly. I’m sure the slogan emerged because of the energy industry (oil and gas, hydroelectricity, even wind power) that is dominant here but it equally refers to the spirit of this community’s people. This is a “Can Do” city. In 1989, local residents created NEAT, the Northern Environmental Action Team, one of the oldest environmental groups in northern BC. I met one of the founders, Andy Larstone, an electrician in Fort St. John, a few years ago when we were both members of a provincial climate action group. I was impressed then with the passion of this group smack-dab in the middle of BC’s oil and gas industry. When I saw their office in downtown Fort St. John today, I decided to visit.
That’s where I met Tammy Hrab and Sarah Mackenzie. Both are involved with local environmental initiatives. They told me about one of NEAT’s ideas, designed to increase year-round (or close to it) local food production. Their plan is to insulate a shipping container and outfit it with lights and other hydroponic growing equipment to grow leafy greens and tomatoes. It would operate as a co-op and they even have a commitment from local elementary school children to grow seedlings prior to transfer to the growing container. They have only one problem: $. That’s where Shell comes in…or might come in. The oil and gas company has a contest called Fuelling Change. Every time a customer makes a purchase from a Shell gas station, the code on their receipt can be entered on a website – fuellingchange.com – and the customer can vote for the environmental project they like best. The project that receives the most votes receives the necessary funding. NEAT’s food production idea – the Green Freight project – is one of the options on the website and the only large-scale project west of Ontario. Unfortunately, with only a few weeks left to vote, the Fort St. John project is trailing the current leader by about 18,000 votes.
Regardless of the outcome, Green Freight, which would be NEAT’s largest project to date, illustrates what appears to be a growing interest around the region for locally grown food and supports UNBC’s ambitions related to integrating local energy production with housing and food. It’s a “neat” idea.