The giant replica of a Canadian nickel on the outskirts of Sudbury, Ont., is testimony to the mining city’s wealth. But the city’s dependency on one exhaustible resource could spell its doom. In 1978, faced with that prospect, local businessmen, politicians and academics formed a group, Sudbury 2001, to consider ways to make the community economically viable after the nickel runs out. The group’s action plan for diversification: launching a goatwool weaving cottage industry, boosting tourism and using abandoned mine shafts to grow fresh produce—in the North, a tomato can cost as much as $3. Six years later, the weaving venture has folded—but tourism is up and the plan to farm the depths has borne fruit, or rather greenery: instead of producing tomatoes, the underground shafts are now yielding pine tree seedlings to help beautify the landscape that mining scarred.
In 1978, in co-operation with Sudbury 2001, Inco Ltd., the international nickel giant that dominates the city’s economy, selected a site for its proposed “farm”—a series of unused tunnels at the 4,600-foot level in the company’s Creighton mine, 40 km northwest of Sudbury. At that depth, safe from predatory bugs and fungi, the temperature is a constant 20°C all year around. There the company installed automatically controlled sodium lamps to provide light 16 hours a day and a water-sprinkler to give the crops a daily moistening.
Inco’s first harvest in 1980 garnered tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers. Bruce Dreisinger, 58, an Inco forester, said, “We demonstrated that we could grow several fine crops underground every year.” The cost also proved to be low in comparison with that of imported produce. But after Inco realized it could face a shortage of a different crop—tree seedlings to plant on unsightly tailings, or piles of ground rock refuse which surround working mines—it converted to tree production.
So far, the underground farmers have raised about 20,000 pine seedlings, now replanted on the surface. Another 30,000 seedlings await replanting. Meanwhile, Sudbury’s quest for diversification continues. Said Mayor Peter Wong: “Sudbury 2001 will try any road if it leads to the future.”
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