Earth Sheltered Greenhouse Project – Phase Three
Joint Initiative by the O’Brien Farm Foundation and Memorial University
Funded by MUN Office of Public Engagement

Our project was launched to demonstrate the potential for year round food production in the challenging climate of Newfoundland and Labrador.  We set out to build a working model of an innovative Earth Sheltered Greenhouse based on a design developed by engineering students at Memorial University.  In this phase of our project, following a consultation phase in which 21 stakeholders were gathered to provide advice and guidance, we were ready to build the structure.  At the same time, we wanted to engage in public outreach by building a new information and incubation website and holding public forums.

We were lucky to engage with the O’Brien Farm Foundation, just as they completed major fundraising and brought onboard a new farm manager, Aaron Rodgers.   Aaron’s training in agricultural economics and his prior experience as manager of a farm museum in Mississippi have prepared him to help the O’Brien Farm, a living example of the Irish Newfoundland farming tradition, become a training site for small to medium sized sustainable agriculture in our province.

The O’Brien Farm, our partner for this project, has committed matching funds to allow us to complete the design and construction of the basic structure.  With their contributions, we estimate the final cost of materials and contracted services will be about $18,000 in total.

With support from the Office of Public Engagement, we have moved ahead steadily with this project, even through the challenges of Snowmaggedon and the Covid pandemic. 

We formed a design team made up of Dan Rubin (biologist/educator), David Goodyear (physicist, greenhouse operator), Curtis Jennings (engineer), Glynn Bishop (artist/builder), Etienne Chaytor (engineer), Steve Gullage (biologist) and Aaron Rodgers (O’Brien Farm manager) to oversee design and construction.  We were able to engage a co-op engineering student, Richard Lovell, to check all our figures and obtain a current quote on building materials, as well as contacting potential suppliers for lumber, concrete, etc.  Through the Social Enterprise Department of MUN’s Faculty of Business we recruited a graduate student to help  us with project development;

A well-established local architecture firm experienced in institutional and residential design (Gibbons and Snow Architects) offered their design services on a pro bono basis, and with their help, we completed and fine-tuned our construction plans.

After a celebratory launch event at the new Autism Society Greenhouse, we identified local suppliers and obtained major discounts and donations of supplies to help us with our project costs.  

At this time, we have begun actual construction.   After clearing and excavating the site, high on a hillside on the O’Brien Farm (looking out at the Avalon Mall!), we have poured concrete walls and are framing the building.  If weather permits we will be to lockup before year end.

The second aspect of our project (outreach and communication) is also proceeding.

We have been successful in setting up a new non-profit organization, Food Producers Forum, Inc., to act as our outreach, information and incubation hub.   We have registered as a provincial non-profit society, established a bank account with Bank of Montreal and have begun the design of a complex, multi-page website.  We have a very strong, gender-balanced, multi-cultural board of directors.  For more details of our structure and activities, please visit

While it was our intention to hold monthly topic-based public forums at the Autism Society Greenhouse, Covid has prevented us from doing this.  So we are planning to instead hold virtual gatherings with online participation, as a way to continue to explore issues related to food production, food distribution and food security with full public engagement.

With this work completed, we have now used up our funding from Memorial University for the project and will be pursuing other funding sources to continue our work on food security.


This project could not have come so far so quickly, without the outstanding support we have received from the local community, and our suppliers and volunteers.  These include:

  • Hickey’s Timbermart: price breaks on supplies and they donated our roofing materials;
  • Scott Frankland (Double A Construction & Fabrication): excavation and donated labour;
  • Luke Janes (Firewood Factory): storage of building materials and loan of equipment;
  • John Randell (Matchless Foundations): concrete contractor;
  • Tom Hibbs and Jason Coish (Newcrete): concrete delivery and donation of services;
  • Gerard and staff (Kent Building Supplies): price breaks on fasteners and tools;
  • Dana Kelly (BDP Rentals and Contracting): tools and services donated to our project:
  • The Dobbin Family: donated building materials and supplies;
  • Bernie Short (Newfound Construction): donated building materials;
  • SEM Consultants: video crew for documentation, project advice and support
  • Luke Godden and Greg Snow (Gibbons and Snow Architects): design and planning

It is extraordinary to see this level of contribution coming from across the community, with so many local companies, individuals and suppliers becoming an active part of our project.

Members of our design team have also participated in the construction process, along with board members from the Food Producers Forum and volunteers from the wider community. 

This project is a living example of what a community can achieve when everyone pulls together. 

All we can say is Thank You!  

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