Tagé’ Ninlin Ts’ok 

Project For
Carleton University

Fourth Year (2020-2021)

Key Focus
  • Design Semantics
  • Research
  • User Centered Design
  • Manufacturability
  • Solidworks
  • Design for Social Impact
Project Length
8 months
“The name, Tagé’ Ninlin Ts’ok, means Waterfall Tree in Northern Tuchone, the native language of the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation.”

This project was my capstone studio project for my fourth and final year at Carleton University. My studio section had the choice to work with the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation of Mayo, Yukon, or the Inuit of Igloolik, Nunavut. As this was amid the Covid-19 pandemic we communicated with members of these communities via Zoom and Miro. We also partnered with students from Carleton’s Sprott School of Business and Carleton Neuroscience. Together with our partners, we conducted research, identified pain points, and created design systems to implement in the community.

Michael Elmarson Award

given to a student in the Industrial Design program who has demonstrated an outstanding environmental awareness in an undergraduate industrial design project

Selected by Carleton University for the ACIDO Rocket Competition


One of the unique elements of this project is that we did not have an initial problem or area to design for, just community partners. Through remote discussions via Zoom, as well as presentations, storyboards, and the use of online collaboration interfaces such as Miro and Basecamp, design briefs were developed to tackle challenges faced by the community. The following is a journey map outlining the process of this project.

01 Research

About Mayo, Yukon

The community of Mayo, Yukon is about 400 km from Whitehorse, about a 4-hour drive, and about 230 km from Dawson, which is just under a 3-hour drive. The closest major Canadian city is Edmonton, Alberta, which takes over a day to drive to. It falls within the land claim of the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation.

The community in Mayo, Yukon is made up of an amalgamation of several different Indigenous groups who settled in the community in the early 1900s, however, it lies within the land claim territory of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation whose ancestors were nomadic people. In the early 1900s, an area near Mayo experienced a gold rush which led to an influx of people coming to live in and around Mayo as well as First Nations beginning to settle here as a trading hub.

About the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation

Some of the key values of the Nah-cho Nyak Dun First Nation include Respect for the Land, Respect for the People, Community and Spirituality.


The Na-cho Nyak Dun community holds a close connection and respect for their land. Much of the knowledge within the community comes from the highly respected elders. There is a high level of importance to preserve these stories and knowledge and pass them among generations. There is a strong sense of blood-related and non-blood-related family, and rich community culture, as well as deep spiritual beliefs.

Food Sovereignty of Mayo

Over time many First Nation’s Food Systems, especially those in Canada’s north, have changed. For many what was once a healthy, sustainable system has become expensive, unhealthy, and heavily reliant on food importation, causing a lack of food security.

Changes in Food Systems
Traditionally the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation had a very sustainable and nutritious food system based upon:
Hunting and Gathering

- Exceedingly sustainable hunting and gathering methods, only take what you need, leave enough for population to recover
- No use of electricity
- Minimal environmental impacts
- High level of respect for food sources, bless remaining population with prayers

Community Knowledge Transfer

- Extensive knowledge of surrounding environments
- Knowledge transfer through stories and hunting and gathering traditions

Nutritious Diet

- Traditional diet of fish, meat and berries
- High quantities of nutritious omega-3s, vitamins and minerals

Much like many elements of Na-cho Nyak Dun and other Indigenous cultures, their food systems have changed due to colonialism, climate change and urbanization. Some of these changes include:
Imported Food

- Yukon is largely dependent on global food systems and importing foods from other areas of the world
- According to the Government of Yukon Department of Energy Mines and Resources, Agriculture Branch, 2018 around 98% of the the food consumed in Yukon in 2011-2012 was imported and only 2% was produced locally

Loss of Hunting and Gathering

- Decrease in population sizes and changes in migration patterns due to climate change
- Urbanization has made it very expensive to hunt and fish, due to boat and snowmobile rental costs, making traditional hunting methods inaccessible to many

Unhealthy Diets

- Diet high in sugar, preservatives, saturated fats, and trans fats and lower in fibre and micronutrients
- Healthier options are much more expensive due to importation costs
- Much of the imported produce loses nutrients within days of shipment, meaning the quality and nutritional value is greatly decreased by the time it reaches Mayo

These changes in the food system and reliance on imported foods makes Mayo, like many Northern Canadian communities, very food insecure and at high risk of being cut off from food supplies should there be a natural disaster or shipping problem.

“People here in the circumpolar north are aware that we could very easily be cut off,” says Dr. Milan Shipka, Associate Director of the Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and co-coordinator of a recent conference on Circumpolar Agriculture (Nobel, 2018).

02 Identifying the Key Pain Points

Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation Farm

In 2019 the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation purchased a previously commercial farm about and hour outside of Mayo.


They have a greenhouse, outdoor crops in the summer, some livestock and the potential to harvest forest foods.

Greenhouse Pain Points

After learning about the farm bought by the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation, I felt this was somewhere I could apply my skills and experiences due to my experience of working at a horse farm the previous summer. Although agriculture operations and horses are fairly different in terms of day to day tasks, I felt I had an understanding of the hard work, long hours and common universal problems experienced by any farm operation. From here I narrowed in my focus on this farm and identifying potential pain points.

The key pain points I discovered through speaking with the agriculture consultant from Northstar Agriculture, hired by the First Nation are highlighted in the picture to the left and listed below:


  • hard on the workers having to bend over all day
  • difficult for elders to view the plants closely
  • more prone to weed growth
Difficult for elders to view the plants
Hard on the greenhouse workers to be bent over all day working on the plants
Plants more prone to weed growth

03 Initial Ideation and Considerations

After identifying the pain points I would like to address I compiled some of the considerations the community representatives had mentioned in previous conversations and developed mind maps. I also included sketches and small prototypes to present to the stakeholders in the next meeting.

After presenting these research findings and prototypes to the community representatives they showed great interest in elevating the plant beds and thought this was an appropriate path to continue investigating.


I also created a diagram showing some of the key considerations discovered through talking with community members and research. These considerations were things that the design needed to meet and be consulted back to throughout the whole design process. I created this diagram in a wheel shape as I felt all the considerations relied on one another for this design to be successful.

04 Additional Research

With the key pain points, focus and considerations agreed upon I did additional research on how to better meet those considerations and ease the pain points.

Human Centered Approach

Strains and Sprains

Based on a BC report in  2011 data shows that 50% of the injuries from greenhouse and nursery workers come from sprains and strains (Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, 2011, 2012)

Based on a BC report in  2011 data shows that 50% of the injuries from greenhouse and nursery workers come from sprains and strains (Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, 2011, 2012)


Having correct ergonomics for the work space in the greenhouse can increase productivity by up to 50% (Bartok, 2007).


Aeroponics is the form of agriculture to grow plants in closed or semi-closed environment, without the use of soil, the roots hang in mid-air and are misted with nutrient laden water.

Uses 98% Less Water
Uses 1/3 The Nutrients
Faster Plant Growth
No Soil Costs

Within there is two types of systems, High Pressure Aeroponics and Tower Aeroponics. I researched both and found Tower Aeroponics was more appropriate for this brief.

On the right is a diagram showing how the Aeroponic Tower system looks. Some of the main opportunities for this system are over the High Pressure Aeroponic (HPA) System include:

  • Uses less expensive pump than HPA
  • Easier to clean the shower-head than individual nozzles on the HPA
  • Easier assembly / potentially less components than the HPA
  • Can find cost effective parts for many of the components

05 Works Like Model and Storyboards

Works Like Model

I made a working model to visualize the system and communicate with others how it works. The working model was made out of a medium tupperware for the base, a small tupperware with holes drilled in for the showerhead, a fish tank pump, tubing for the fish tank pump and a rolled piece of clear plastic with holes drilled in (done by the lab technicians based of a file I sent).


Storyboards of different interactions were created and shown to the community, to communicate the concept, generate ideas and get feedback on design concepts at this stage.

Plant Life Cycle

06 Prototypes and Final Design Development

Although this design was based upon existing technology, there was much to be done to adapt the technology to be suitable for the Na-cho Nyak Dun community. Through prototyping both with scale models and 1:1 elements a definitive design was worked towards. A mood board was also developed to help guide the aesthetic of the design.

1:1 Scale Prototypes
1:1 Pod Prototypes
Ideation Sketching
Solidworks Building

In this stage, which took close to a month, most of the key details were developed, mainly in Solidworks. There were many iterations and weekly consults with the professor to fine tune features, materials and processes as well as form and functionality.

07 Final Model

Base Features
Internal Dividers
Water Spreader
Interlocking Lid and Showerhead
Pod System
Internal Base Components
About the Final Design

To the left there is a breakdown of the parts shipped to the community for a single unit. With these parts the community can assemble the system with a very small number of tools. Most of the parts have easily mass produced manufacturing procedures to create multiple units easily and affordably. Finally, the bottom left shows how community members produce the holes in the tube. Since the main bulk of the labour is accomplished by the community, the cost of this system is greatly reduced.

This system allows not only for better ergonomics for staff, easier workflow and better yields but better accessibility for the community members. Elders can easily see plants at whatever eye level they are most comfortable with. Children can view the plants from ground level or use the base as a step to see taller sections of plants. The outer tube is transparent to allow the inner workings of the system to be viewed, and promote education of the system. These features are intended to make education around agriculture more transparent, accessible and interesting for the community. This in turn will encourage the community to become involved in the system, learn more and reintroduce the feelings of pride and empowerment from direct involvement with their food system.


Once the tubes are shipped to the community (1) they are able to be turned into usable pieces. Community members cut out the holes using templates and a hand router (2,3). The flat pods are then heated and bent and then inserted into the tube (4,5). From here the grow squares can be inserted into plant cups and into the pods (6,7).

1:1 Model

Creation and final photos of 1:1 12” section of the outer tube. A jig was made to bend acrylic around. A sheet of 1/8” acrylic was laser cut with the hole pattern and heated and bent around the jig. This created a tube at 1:1 scale which was sandblasted. Finally styrene pods were cut, heated, bent and inserted into the tube.

1:4 Scale Model

Creation and final photos of 3D print model. Based of the solidworks model the parts were scaled to 1:4 scale and 3D printed. They were then sanded, covered in drydex, primed and painted.

08 Evaluation