Yellowknife has forgotten how to grow its own food but is ready to remember again, the city’s mayor proclaimed, as a grow-your-own strategy saw the light of day.
Residents are being asked to examine the project and give feedback at Northern United Place from 4pm-8pm on Monday.
Mayor Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio the City can make significant changes to help people grow more of their own food – but councillors may face choices between big-ticket items or a slower, more gradual approach.
“We had a strong culture of agriculture, which most people probably wouldn’t think of,” said Alty. “But then we got better roads and infrastructure.
“Now we’ve kind of forgotten that we can grow our own food, and we just go to the grocery store to get our own food.
“We always talk about diversifying the economy … I think this is a great opportunity. It ties in to tourism and there are lots of different things that we can do.”
At its highest level, the draft strategy sets out five ways the City of Yellowknife can encourage what the document calls “urban agriculture”:
- Support sustainable growth by making friendlier policies and providing more opportunities;
- Make it easier to access water, soil and compost, and places to grow;
- Help the community to host more learning opportunities;
- Foster local agri-business and the farmers’ market; and
- Help coordinate all the different initiatives taking place.
An opportunities analysis produced while the strategy was being drawn up documents, at some length, options available to the City.
“Right now, we say your septic tank has to be the same size as your water tank,” said Alty, providing an example of ways the City can remove obstacles to food growing.
“For a greenhouse most of the water is going onto the product, it’s not going into the septic tank. So [that adds] the cost of having to get such a big septic tank.”
Alty said the City could also add to what she termed the “edible landscape” of Yellowknife.
“Instead of having bushes, you’ve got bushes that grow berries,” she said.
“I was in Madison, Wisconsin, and at their state legislature there’s a mix of flowers, but then they’re also growing carrots and stuff.
“And so at City Hall, can we have some flowers, but can we also have some tomatoes and potatoes and stuff like that?”
Mayor Rebecca Alty and consultant Janine de la Salle discuss plans to help Yellowknife’s urban agriculture in Studio Two.
Janine de la Salle, from Vancouver-based Urban Food Strategies, has been working on Yellowknife’s new strategy.
“The number one asset you have going for you here in Yellowknife is the people,” De La Salle told Cabin Radio. “There are a lot of people who are really passionate about food. They grow their own, they teach others. There are people doing chickens, there are people growing their own tomatoes, there are bees. So this has really come from the community in many ways.
“It’s the desire and the will and the kind-of hardcore nature of people in Yellowknife. They want to be self-sufficient,” she said.
“They want to be able to do this. And they’ve come forward to ask the City to take on that enabling role, and that’s really what this plan provides – a framework for the City to enable the long-term, sustainable growth of this food.”
Asked how this applies to people whose grow-your-own passion might by necessity take a back seat to family life, Alty said communal projects could provide a way forward.
“One of the great things that we already have in Yellowknife is the community gardens. With that it’s two people, or at least two families that get a plot,” said the mayor. “So there, you’re able to share that work.
“It’s kind of like urban farming: when you look at farming, it was the community that would help out and you’re not just doing it all yourself. This is that smaller scale of being able to share the load and then being able to share the bounty.”
‘The door is now open’
Asked what some of the bigger steps the City could take might be, De La Salle gave the example of Sole Food – a Vancouver social enterprise that, in its own words, “transforms vacant urban land into street farms that grow artisan quality fruits and vegetables.” (50/50 lot, anyone?)
“They train people from the Downtown Eastside, which is a struggling area of Vancouver, they get paid, and all that produce gets sold to the high-end restaurants in Vancouver,” said De La Salle. “People were really interested in connecting to people that are not in the middle-class bracket and really broadening out the activity to see what’s possible there.
“That’s a big idea, because that would require a site [and] capital investment to construct garden beds. Likely, in Yellowknife, what you’re looking at is an enclosed kind of greenhouse or container gardening, just because of the climate and things like that.
“But the trick is that’s not necessarily a City lead, on that, but the door is now open in the plan to say the City will participate and come to the table when those discussions happen.”
Alty said the City is aware of “about four or five people” interested in setting up their own greenhouses, of varying scales, in addition to those already operational.
“If we drag our feet,” she said, “then we’re impeding that economic development.”
The cost of implementing ideas and proposals associated with the new strategy won’t be worked out until councillors begin providing basic direction, De La Salle said.
“The good news is there’s a lot of new money out there,” she added, referring to federal initiatives such as the Canadian Agricultural Partnership – a five-year, $3-billion plan to invest more money into agriculture across the country.
“You can use things like raised beds and container gardening, or there’s even high-tech systems that are coming in or being tested and redeployed for northern climates,” said De La Salle, describing ways to circumvent Yellowknife’s growing climate, soil quality, and arsenic concentrations in the local area.
“There’s also now becoming a business interest and a business passion around this. So it’s a nice convergence and it’s a great confluence of timing.
“It’s a great time to do this. There’s momentum elsewhere in the country.”
De La Salle will present to residents at 6:30pm on Monday during the feedback session at Northern United Place. Food will be provided (though whether it was grown in Yellowknife was not immediately clear).