The past week has been hectic for Benjamin L. Vidmar and his assistant Melissa Berl. They have moved herbs and vegetables from the basement of the Stormessa in a planned sequence this week. The first layer of plastic insulation is in place beneath the tarp and secured snugly. The herbs and vegetables occupy benches along the wall of the round greenhouse. Inside the basement, cucumbers for pickles and other vegetables are waiting to be moved out into the light and warmth.
Vidmar is also still unpacking parts of the greenhouse and trying to put them together using the instructions as he talks enthusiastically about his project. He plans to grow local food and use food waste in a more sensible way than throwing it in the garbage. If everything goes according to plan, the greenhouse will compost food waste from hotels and restaurants.
"I want us to use the resources at our disposal in a better and more environmentally friendly way," he said. "I want to create many new activities around the production of herbs and local food."
In particular, Vidmar said he's thinking about shipping all the food up here at a high cost that result in so much food ending up in the garbage.
From an apartment adjacent to the greenhouse, he hopes to offer visitors guided tours of the greenhouse, courses for others growing their own food and cooking lessons using the herbs he grows. He also believes there are many other possibilities.
Berl is actually a trained tailor, but is now assisting Vidmar as a side job to working on the Arctic Tapas bus and at Svalbard Bryggeri. She waters and cares for the herbs, and helps carry and install the greenhouse's insulation. The frame is built of wood imported from Alaska.
Vidmar came to Longyearbyen from the United States in 2008. He has worked as a chef in most of the town's dining establishments and now works as a cook at Svalbard Hotel four days a week. The greenhouse, and cultivating the herbs and vegetables, is just a side business so far.
Vidmar said he knows several places in the Arctic where the greenhouses are widespread.
"In Alaska and Greenland, they have had greenhouses and similar production for many years," he said. "They have different ways of constructing greenhouses there. One way is to partially excavate the site."
During the winter, the greenhouse will light up the winter darkness.
"This is only the first greenhouse; eventually I hope to get up more," he said while pointing beyond the plain where the first greenhouse stands.
The greenhouse is not completely finished. An additional layer of plastic insulation remains to be fitted. The dual transparent layer of insulation will keep the wind out and warmth inside. The greenhouse will also be insulated with eco-materials.
"We hope that good insulation will help ensure that we do not need to add that much heat. Initially we will use electricity and kerosene," Vidmar said. Tanks with heated water and compost will also dissipate heat. He hopes to have to have animals inside the greenhouse that emit additional heat.
In April, Vidmar applied to bring pigs and chickens to Longyearbyen, but said he is still waiting for a response from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.
"The only thing I've got introduced so far are earthworms and possibly also quails," said Vidmar, who hopes to serve the birds' eggs to visitors and guests.