Little forest on the prairie – Invest Medicine Hat

Little forest on the prairie

Agriculture / News / People / Start-up Culture

Approximately one quarter of Alberta’s new forests are grown in prairie greenhouses in Medicine Hat and shipped to reforestation projects across the province.

February 27, 2018

The Pancoast family has turned a 40,000 square foot greenhouse in Medicine Hat into one of Alberta’s largest seedling producers, making them one of the largest providers of trees for reforestation in Alberta.

The Pancoasts’ eight acre tree nursery, Chinook Greenhouses, shares the neighbourhood with Eleven-22 Co-op Seed Plant, Medalta, an international ceramic artist studio and National Historic Site, and nearly 3,000 residents.

Medicine Hat is a leading producer of hothouse vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lettuce. The region is home to Alberta’s largest greenhouse cluster, accounting for 70% of Alberta’s greenhouse production. What is less known is Medicine Hat’s role in Alberta’s reforestation efforts.

In 1986, Dave Pancoast, his brother, Milt Pancoast, and their wives purchased Chinook Greenhouses, which was growing hothouse vegetables. They made the move to seedlings for reforestation after reading a National Geographic article highlighting the increasing demand for reforestation in the early 1990s.

Today, Chinook Greenhouses is one of Alberta’s primary seedling growers. Last year, Chinook grew 12 million white spruce and lodgepole pine seedlings for major logging companies, including Weyerhaeuser and Tolko, for their reforestation projects.

The Alberta Forest Products Association reported that 80 million seedlings are required for reforestation projects, annually. Chinook and Medicine Hat-based Red Rock Nursery grow approximately 21 million, essentially growing 25% of Alberta’s new forests.

How did a hot, dry prairie city hundreds of miles from Alberta’s forests come to grow one of every four new trees in the province?

“Being connected to the City’s water is an advantage,” says Pancoast. “It eliminates the step in treating and storing the water prior to watering the seedlings.”

Chinook Greenhouses has an in-house built irrigation system that is connected to the City of Medicine Hat’s water utility.

The City is one of the only jurisdictions in North America that operates its own electricity, water and natural gas utilities. Water from the South Saskatchewan River is treated by the City’s water treatment plant before distribution. Electricity is generated through city-owned power generation facilities, eliminating the need for electricity transmission.

Medicine Hat’s sunny and warm spring weather makes it possible to open the greenhouse roof sooner than most jurisdictions, creating a miniature forest in the middle of the prairie city.

Indeed, Chinook Greenhouses has established deep roots in Canada’s sunniest city, relying on city utilities, favourable weather and a well-connected transportation hub to help reforestation projects across Alberta.