Opportunities abound for agriculture in Labrador

·7 min read

Second in a two-part series

While agriculture in Labrador may be a daunting task, there is also a lot of opportunity. With only one per cent of food consumed in Labrador grown in the region, there is a market for locally produced food, be it vegetables or other crops or food products.

From a beef farm to a cold storage facility, to a research farm, there are some new and exciting things happening in agriculture in Labrador.

Darren Dinsmore of Aldercroft Farm has agriculture in his blood. He grew up on a farm in Ontario and said when he moved to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, he saw potential.

Dinsmore, who is also the pastor at the local Baptist church in town, said he saw a need for local beef and decided to give it a go.

“We recognize that food insecurity is an issue in Labrador and there’s a need for us as Labradorians to grow local meat, whether that’s beef or pork or whatever else,” he said. “So when a farm close to our church property became available, we jumped on that.”

Dinsmore brought Highland cattle to the region and has been growing his herd for the last few years.

He said there have been a lot of challenges, but he thinks compared to what farmers faced 100 years ago, they aren’t so bad.

“I feel we have an advantage because there are things like equipment and government programs available that are a huge help to us,” he said. "If you’re not afraid of work and you want to see local food produced here, then I think it’s a really good thing to get into. I always encourage young people to consider it, there’s a demand for it.”

Producers could never keep up with the demand for local food, he said, so it’s literally a growth industry. There has been a huge amount of interest in the beef from local people, Dinsmore said, and he hopes to be able to scale up his business over time into a larger commercial operation.

Right now, the farm is focused on growing the herd and producing hay because they aren’t allowed to sell beef yet. There is no licensed abattoir in Labrador and Dinsmore said they’ve petitioned the government and is hopeful there will be one soon. He said there was discussion of building one this summer, as part of a partnership with the province, and he’s hopeful it will move forward next year.

“An abattoir is next on our priority list; without it we can’t produce our own beef here locally. Hopefully next summer we can produce our own beef, which would be amazing.”

The provincial government did recognize the need for an abattoir in Labrador in the work sector plan for agriculture that was part of The Way Forward document, which had 2018-2019 listed as an ideal completion date.

Dinsmore said he does know of other people who would get into the industry but are waiting for an abattoir to be built. There is a deficit in agriculture infrastructure in the region, he said, and that does inhibit the growth of the industry. Nevertheless, he's looking on the bright side.

“If it takes longer than next year, that’s all right. I’ll just keep feeding our cows and getting them nice and fat and growing our herd, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Tom Angiers of Spruce Meadow Farm has been farming in the Lake Melville region for a long time and said he’s fully aware of all the barriers producers continue to face in terms of government policy and infrastructure.

Taking on agriculture in Labrador takes a certain kind of person, he said, one who is willing to put in the time and the work needed. He produces vegetables and eggs at his farm along the North West River Highway, selling them locally and hopefully soon, on the Labrador north coast.

Angiers and his farm were recently awarded federal and provincial funding to construct a regional cold storage and packaging facility for Labrador, the first of its kind.

Use of the facility will be available to members of a co-operative, he said, which currently includes three farms.

“So far we’ve only been able to grow and try to handle a little bit for a little while, but we’ve never really been able to make a living at it because we haven’t been able to store enough to supply enough months of the year,” he said. “You can’t support your family on a few months of vegetables.”

A cold storage facility would give them the opportunity to store and sell their crops in Labrador year-round for the first time, he said, which could allow them to greatly grow their businesses.

The co-operative has been approved to be a part of Nutrition North Canada, a federal government program with the goal of making nutritious food assessable in the north, including the Labrador north coast.

Angiers said this gives the farms and the people of the coast a great opportunity since the program will cover 80 per cent of the cost to ship the freight up the coast.

“This way they can get fresh Labrador vegetables at a reasonable cost,” he said. “It’ll be higher quality and lower prices, there’s no drawback to them. It’s a win-win.”

Last year, Memorial University took over what had been known as the Grand River Farm in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, run by Frank and Joyce Pye, and turned it into the university’s first experimental and community farm.

Ashlee Cunsolo is dean of the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies and the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems at the Labrador Institute of Memorial University. She said Frank Pye approached the school before he died with the dream of turning the farm into a hub for northern food security research, and a seed was planted.

The university went through two years of consultation before taking over the farm, and Cunsolo said they heard nothing but support.

The 80-acre farm will be used for a number of purposes and they spent last year and this year planning and preparing. Next year they’ll be welcoming in the public, researchers, and community groups, which Cunsolo said will be more of an official opening.

They will be offering a variety of services, equipment, and resources for those interested, including giving people access to plots to try their hand at farming or to try out new crops. It will be the first experimental farm in Labrador, she said, and can hopefully help the industry grow.

“With the provincial plan to double food self-sufficiency, Labrador is poised to really contribute to that,” Cunsolo said. “There is huge untapped potential and we’re hoping, as a university and as a hub for research and education, to be able to support that growth and development in a rapid way so we can provide training and research opportunities.”

For research to be approved on the farm, Cunsolo said, it has to be requested by a local farmer or shown to be a direct need for local farming. They want it to be a place where people try new things, and where new entrants into the industry are encouraged.

“What’s cool about doing it through a university is we can pilot these things with no risk,” she said. “If they don’t work, they don’t work, and we know it and that contributed to what we understand.”

Cunsolo said in Labrador there are so many farmers who don’t have enough land and have to use every piece they have, so this will help remove that risk.

They aren’t competing with commercial farmers, she said, adding she feels people see them as an asset to the region.

“We see ourselves as a way to support the work that’s already being done and to help people grow in the way that they want,” she said.

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram