The City of Yellowknife has teamed up with researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University to explore the potential of a community food hub in the capital.
The city announced the project in a news release on Tuesday, stating the two had “partnered to research opportunities and barriers of local food infrastructure within Yellowknife” with funding from social innovation non-profit Mitacs.
“This exciting partnership allows the city to directly address one of the recommendations within our agriculture strategy,” Mayor Rebecca Alty was quoted as saying.
“Together, we will explore options for a commercial food incubator and community food hub in Yellowknife.”
A series of webinars from March 25 will examine barriers to developing agriculture in the city and what Yellowknife’s food hub could look like.
Andrew Spring, a research associate at Wilfrid Laurier who has worked with local groups like Ecology North and the Yellowknife Farmers Market, said there was “no one model” for a food hub. He defined it in simple terms as a “centralized facility for food.”
“They do operate as these kind-of distribution networks for food,” he explained. “Food comes in and then it gets distributed out in some fashion – sold, aggregated, prepared, whatever.
“It doesn’t have to be this one physical structure. It can be a cooperative. It can be how different entities within the food system work together – more of a governance model than anything else.”
Spring said a food hub ensures equitable, reliable access to healthy, local food.
Examples include FoodShare in Toronto, which supports Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colour by providing community kitchens, cooking workshops, and free fruit and vegetable boxes.
The Cowichan Green Community, in British Columbia, lends farming equipment. In the North, the Northern Farm Training Institute trains residents in the art of subarctic agriculture, while the Inuvik Community Greenhouse provides a space for residents to grow food alongside a range of programs designed to address food security.
Breaking down barriers
Spring told Cabin Radio the partnership between the university and Yellowknife began when the city started looking at implementing its agriculture strategy, also known as the Grow Strategy.
“It morphed into this public engagement project around what some of the infrastructure and program needs are in the city to support a vibrant local food system,” he said.
Work to address weaknesses in Yellowknife’s food system has been building for years.
In 2015, the Yellowknife Farmers Market developed a food charter outlining a commitment to creating “a just and sustainable food system … rooted in a healthy community, where everyone has access to adequate and affordable nutritious food.”
Four years later, the city’s Grow Strategy laid out long-term goals for Yellowknife’s “urban food and agriculture system.”
But Spring said northern agriculture comes with obstacles.
“There aren’t a lot of growers in the North, in Yellowknife,” he said. “Some of that comes from the fact that there’s actually not a lot of land to grow food, or opportunities to grow food, or training to grow food.
“Some of the conversation we’re going to have is around how do you get better access to the land to grow food? People who want to start agriculture on a small scale, what are some of the barriers that they face?”
The work ahead will include focus groups and interviews with “local Yellowknife food champions,” according to Tuesday’s news release.
What Yellowknife’s food hub looks like will ultimately be decided by the community, Spring said.
“This is the opportunity we have to make sure the players in the food system in Yellowknife really have their voice,” he said, “to say how it should be developed, to support their needs going forward.”