Yellowknife city councillors approved a plan designed to provide more help for residents and businesses growing their own food.
The city already has a 10-year food and agriculture strategy that aims to grow the local food economy, adopted in 2019. On Monday, council adopted an implementation plan for the strategy that sets out shorter-term goals like expanding areas where commercial greenhouses are permitted. It has a budget of $15,000 over the next two years.
In an impassioned speech, Yellowknife farmer France Benoit, owner and operator of Le Refuge urban farm, urged councillors to approve the plan. Benoit said supporting agriculture was vital to improving food security and combating climate change, as diesel trucks transporting food to the territory are a large source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“I hope you make agriculture and local food production a cornerstone of our economy,” she said.
“Let’s grow a more resilient community when it comes to its food sources.”
Benoit proposed a number of creative solutions to achieve that goal, like a farmer-in-residence program or a “win your farm” competition, similar to Win Your Space YK – the city’s business incubation contest that gives winners a year’s free rent among other perks.
Councillor Shauna Morgan supported the overall strategy but worried about providing greater support to the agriculture and food sector than other areas of the city’s economy, echoing comments made by Councillor Niels Konge last month.
Morgan said the city should prioritize projects that provide the broadest benefit, target vulnerable residents, or are free and accessible to everyone.
Benoit, however, argued the city has already focused on certain industries over others, pointing to a memorandum of understanding with the mining industry that councillors are considering signing. She said the city should consider equity, rather than equality, when distributing resources across economic sectors.
“I’m begging you to treat food production differently because it is different,” she said.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we’re treating what literally keeps us alive the same as any other industry.”
At a meeting last month, two other Yellowknife growers told councillors they supported the implementation plan but urged the city to do more. They highlighted challenges accessing land, water, soil and compost.
Now that the implementation plan has been adopted, city staff will work on initiatives to achieve its goals.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said she expects “really hearty discussions” to come when staff bring those plans to council for approval.