Larkin Schmiedl's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘food systems

What’s behind the high cost of food in Canada’s North?

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Food insecurity in the Northwest Territories remains a pressing issue

High food prices in the Northwest Territories aren’t new, but what isn’t often talked about is the struggle many across the territory face to simply eat. In Inuvik, a trucker comes up from B.C. every two weeks to sell fresh produce from his truck—but he can’t make it year-round. Remote communities throughout the N.W.T. increasingly rely on food banks. Sachs Harbour on Banks Island, population 117, receives government funding to feed its homeless people. Wrigley, population 153, Paulatuk, 327, and Ulukhaktok, 428, do the same.

Myriad factors mean these Arctic hamlets need food banks: The high costs of operating grocery stores in the North, climate change, the decline of wild foods (called country food in the North), cultural change, resource extraction, and environmental contamination create a situation where food is inaccessible. In a territory where borders have changed drastically since Canada was created, big changes continue to occur.

Indigenous people make up exactly half the N.W.T.’s population of 44,469, with most non-Indigenous living in the city of Yellowknife.

“People were largely self-sufficient,” says France Benoit, president of the Yellowknife Farmer’s Market. “But then what happened is when they put the road in, it’s no different than anywhere else in Canada—all of a sudden, food is being trucked from elsewhere.”

In Inuvik, population 3,140, there is one food bank, a homeless shelter, and a community lunch program. At the food bank, demand is outstripping donations so community members now must pay small sums for discounted flats of food. According to a 2013 peer-reviewed paper by James D. Ford, the town has a food insecurity rate of 43 percent—five times the Canadian average.

Benoit says colonial settlement deeply affected food systems in the N.W.T. “[Indigenous groups] were going to the barren lands and then coming back according to the seasons,” she says. “They were using entire areas.” When the N.W.T. was created, various cultural groups were forced together into settlements. In the past, “people were able to take care of each other.”

While game, fish, and berries remain central to many people’s diets, only 14 percent of N.W.T. households get more than three-quarters of their meat and fish directly from the land. Most people in the N.W.T. would like to eat more of it, especially caribou, a traditional staple. But, according to the State of Rural Canada, a 2015 report by non-profit Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, these foods aren’t as plentiful now. The Bathurst caribou, for example, that roam near the arctic hamlets that now have food banks, have declined from roughly 450,000 animals in the mid-1980s to around 20,000 today.

And now that most people rely on food from grocery stores, high costs are a looming issue. Duane Wilson of Arctic Co-operatives, the support centre for grocery co-ops across the territory, worked in food transportation in the co-op for years.

Building a store that sells to a limited number of people, with utilities up to 10 times more expensive while you store a year’s worth of goods in a heated warehouse, is challenging, he says. And on top of it when something breaks you might need to fly an expert in.

“And we’re going to expect that it’s going to have the same prices as the Walmart Supercentre. Does that sound reasonable to you?”

Ice roads are also more expensive to truck on. Seasonal road and ferry closures mean most N.W.T. communities need to fly their supplies in at least part of the time. Others use marine barges, though the lack of developed ports means it’s costlier. And climate change is altering some harbours, making access even harder. It’s expensive to transport supplies to build new stores. Electricity is five to 10 times more in parts of the North, according to a 2015 government-commissioned study on Northern food retail.

“Many of the co-op retail operations actually are done at a loss to serve their community,” says Wilson. “This truly is life and death for people.”

Despite this, at least some food remains affordable. In Yellowknife, gala apples go for $1.99 a pound. At NorthMart in Inuvik, they’re $3.17 a pound. Prices checked in May 2017 on pears, eggs, milk, and yogurt in both locations were similarly comparable. As the State of Rural Canada report points out however, the standard cost of basic food items is often higher.

Laura Rose manages the Hay River soup kitchen (population 2,728). Despite increasing reliance on the food bank in her community, she points to positive happenings in the N.W.T. “There’s more gardening and growing one’s own food in some of the different communities that’s starting to take off,” she says. “The green thumb bug is catching on with people.”

There’s the Inuvik community greenhouse, dubbed the most northerly greenhouse in North America, housing community plots and a commercial portion.

In Hay River, the non-profit Northern Farm Training Institute has a mission to empower people to restore Northern food systems. Benoit praises Yellowknife organization Food Rescue that collects grocery store food before it’s thrown out and redistributes it to community organizations.

“The land, plants, animals, and humans hold a kin interrelationship that has consummated livelihoods for generations,” reads the State of Rural Canada report on the N.W.T. “Resilience is central to this landscape.” May it be so.

 

This article was first published in the July/Aug 2017 issue of This Magazine. https://this.org/2017/07/25/whats-behind-the-high-cost-of-food-in-canadas-north/

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UN makes case for agroecology

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A UN report released this time last year talks about how agroecological methods of growing food outperform systems that use chemical fertilizers.

Agroecology, simply put, is the management of agricultural systems along ecological lines; recognizing that agriculture itself is its own ecology.  Agroecology is not tied to one specific type of farming, for example organic, but instead looks at context.  It is a way of studying our food production systems.

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 26, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Food brainstorms

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My investigation begins.  It began years ago, really, when I first became acutely interested in food politics.

I am in process of surveying local food issues, and will be attending the Kamloops Food Policy Council meeting this Wednesday.

I spoke with Anne Grube yesterday, who is a local organic farmer (Golden Ears farm) and mother of city councillor Donovan Cavers.  (Cavers also runs a local catering business that strives to provide local organic ingredients, Conscientious Catering.)

I’ve been brainstorming ideas for stories, thinking about what can be put in concrete terms that really delves to the heart of issues with food and the food movement, and speaks to what a wide audience is concerned about.  The best idea I have so far is to look at the pricing of organic foods vs. conventional foods, to look at the reasons and provide information that people can base their purchasing decisions on, or at least give some food for thought and further research.

I have an obvious bias in support of organics and local and sustainable foods, so I will just put that front and centre right here.  However I do not think this prevents me from delving in and reporting on the issue.  I hope that by being transparent about my beliefs and background I will be able to put forth some of the concrete things I have learned about the food system in my time, alongside new research, and presented in balance with other perspectives.  My aim is for us all to learn, and find our way collectively toward a food system we can believe in, and that is viable to create.

Any ideas, readers?  Anything you’ve always wondered about food or the food system?  Any things you think need to be heard about more in the media?  Write and let me know.  I want to know what folks are wondering and concerned about.

The ideas I’m playing with right now include:

  • Food recommendations and the official national food pyramid–how it came to be, and what factors influenced its development?  What do dietary experts have to say about it?
  • Food irradiation treatment–what exactly is it, and how does it work?
  • The Kamloops public garden is expanding to the North Shore in the spring, and this is of interest locally.
  • Kamloops grocery store waste–what is given away and where to, and what goes into the dumpsters?  (I used to procure a lot of my food from dumpster diving, but not in Kamloops, so I have first-hand experience of the vast amounts of food that are thrown away, and am curious about what is happening here in Kamloops.)  What regulations govern food donation, and what laws apply to dumpster divers?  How does this relate to poverty in town?
  • How much food do we actually have in Kamloops that is locally produced?
  • I had the idea to create an interactive online food miles calculator that would tell you where your food came from if you typed in the type of food, its brand and where you got it.  This does not exist on the internet that I know of, and it would be a complicated, extensive and ever-changing and expanding project.  I think it’s pretty far outside the scope of what I could accomplish in this course.  I am very excited about the idea of a project like this though.  This sort of database could link to a vast amount of information about environmental impact, farm conditions, predicted nutritional value, profiles of stores and what they provide, and more.  Very exciting.  The sorts of food miles calculators that exist online now are approximate and do not provide detailed information.  Here is one good one if you just want to calculate how far a particular item has travelled to get to you.  All you need to know is what country your food item came from.

I’ll continue brainstorming, blogging and reporting as the days and weeks go on, so stay tuned.

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