Farmers say this month’s flooding in Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation has dealt a “devastating blow” to the territory’s agriculture sector.
Hay River is a hub for the NWT’s relatively small agriculture industry, home to several farms and the Northern Farm Training Institute, a non-profit farm school that aims to increase food production in the North.
Some of those operations were hard-hit by unprecedented flooding in the area earlier this month.
“It’s been catastrophic,” said Kevin Wallington, chair of the Territorial Agrifood Association and business development manager of Choice North Farms, the largest egg farm in the NWT.
“This has definitely been a devastating blow to the agri-food sector.”
Wallington said Choice North Farms was fortunate not to be damaged by flooding but relocation of its grading station has been pushed back several weeks. He said some employees had to evacuate, meaning long work days for those who were able to stay to run the barn.
‘A significant amount of work’
Other farms weren’t as lucky, particularly those in the Paradise Gardens neighbourhood.
Some farmers in the area lost livestock and generations of work. Others saw buildings swallowed up and crop soil washed away.
“These are really, really core members of the team,” Wallington said, “individuals who have been providing all kinds of food and plants and other food supplies for the market here in the Northwest Territories, that are going to have to do a significant amount of work to get back to that place.”
Greenwood Gardens said its greenhouses, a chicken coop and garage were destroyed by the flooding, while farm equipment was submerged in water for days. The family-run market garden has started an online fundraiser to help rebuilding efforts.
Alex McMeekin, who owns Riverside Growers, said his family home was saved from the floodwater but two acres of berry fields were damaged and their greenhouses “took a pretty good hit,” meaning they’re down for the season. He said the full extent of the impact to his business remains to be seen.
“We’re feeling pretty grateful that we still have a home, whereas other guys down the road here saw six, seven feet of water in their basements,” he said.
“Structurally, I think we’ll be OK, but there’s still an immense amount of work to do.”
Impacts on food security
McMeekin said the flooding in Paradise Gardens will have far-reaching consequences for food security in the North.
“It’s a big hit down here. It’s a lot of food that’s not going to be coming out now,” he said.
“Square footage wise, this valley probably produces more than a lot of other places in general through the North.”
Wallington said the Territorial Agrifood Association plans to work with the NWT government and other organizations to help the sector recover from flooding and continue to grow.
“It’s a chance for us to really show our support for them and to bring people together to find solutions,” he said.
Drew Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, said the minister and senior officials had visited Hay River to assess the damage and speak with food producers.
In the short term, Williams said, homeowners and business operators can access disaster assistance funding through the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. He said the territory’s Business Development and Investment Corporation had deferred loan payments for all Hay River clients until September.
Correction: May 27, 2022 – 13:00 MT. This article initially referred to the Department of Infrastructure, Tourism and Investment. The department’s actual name is the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.
Correction: May 27, 2022 – 11:43 MT. This article initially referred to one affected business as Greenwood Growers. The actual name of the business is Greenwood Gardens.