N.W.T. farmers show growing fresh, local produce is possible but needs financial support

·4 min read
The Inuvik greenhouse has been experimenting with a new hydroponic unit and is providing local stores with fresh vegetables and herbs. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)
The Inuvik greenhouse has been experimenting with a new hydroponic unit and is providing local stores with fresh vegetables and herbs. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)

Local growers in the N.W.T. are proving that, despite the harsh conditions of the N.W.T. winter, it is possible to farm locally and provide fresher and more environmentally friendly food.

Kyle Thomas and Marie Auger, the owners of Bush Order Provisions, spent the summer experimenting with 20 different varieties of crops to see which were the most successful and viable to continue planting.

"Our plan is to expand fully into shoulder seasons rather than year-round growing because we'd primarily use the sunlight as where all the nutrients come from," said Thomas.

The small Yellowknife-based commercial market garden opened this spring to provide fresh food to Yellowknife residents in the summer and part of fall.

In anticipation of Yellowknife's typical short autumn, they pulled their crops out in mid-October, but realized that, with a few row covers, they could have gotten a couple more weeks of crops.

They hope to begin their season earlier next year, possibly in mid-April, and take advantage of the "powerful" Yellowknife sun.

Bush Order also bakes bread almost daily and sells its produce locally.

"It's going right to the grocery store ... from our hands, to a shelf, to the person that's consuming it. That's a huge change to what we're used to," said Thomas.

Hydroponics the solution to some for all-year growing

The Inuvik Community Greenhouse just got a new hydroponic unit in April, which enables them to continue to grow vegetables, like leafy greens and herbs, for local stores.

Adi Scott, coordinator for the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, said they spent the summer learning how the unit works and now harvest twice a week.

"We really wanted to make sure that what we were producing was accessible to as many people as possible," said Scott.

They have a veggie box program through the greenhouse, but looked to make their produce available in stores.

It's the greenhouse's third week harvesting for stores in Inuvik, and the first harvest sold out in three days.

The Inuvik Community Greenhouse wants to experiment with different types of produce grown in a hydroponic unit.

"We're trying to grow some pansies in there right now to have edible flowers. Someone suggested broccoli so we're going to start growing broccoli and we're growing some little chili plants."

Chantal Dubuc/CBC
Chantal Dubuc/CBC

Funding for local growers needed

For Bush Order Provisions, the possibility of a year-round operation is still years away and would need funding that is not available through the territorial government, said Thomas.

It will require expensive infrastructure like a greenhouse, and a cost-effective way to produce heat.

"Right now a lot of the agriculture funding is geared to community governments, non-profits as well as home-based or very urban growers. So it's smaller pots of money for smaller things," said Thomas.

"We're getting to the point where we need a substantial funding pot if there were to be one at all. We're not counting on it, we're not betting on it, but that would be more useful to use than $5,000 here or $1,000 there."

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Territorial representation

Kevin Wallington, marketing and sales manager at Polar Egg in Hay River, also chairs the newly formed Territorial Agrifood Association which represents food producers, and processors big and small in the N.W.T.

Polar Egg, founded in 2012, sells locally-raised eggs to six communities around the territory. Wallington has seen the agriculture industry grow in the last decade.

"10 years ago was a very different conversation. Now we talk about food sovereignty and security and local food, but at the time we didn't have a lot of that."

The Territorial Agrifood Association works to advance the industry for producers by working with the federal and territorial government.

Wallington said growing food in the North comes with its challenges, but he hopes the long success of Polar Egg has shown that it can be done.

"I certainly think that it's opened up the conversation that it's possible and producing food in the Northwest Territories for people in the North … is possible."

With files from Marc Winkler

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