Agriculture conference called the first of its kind

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An agriculture conference focusing on food growers and producers – believed to be the first of its kind ever in the NWT – was held at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre last weekend.

Two beekeepers – Andrew Cassidy, left, of Hay River and Matt Vincent of Yellowknife – discuss some beekeeping equipment at an agriculture conference at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

A variety of sessions took place throughout the Oct. 13 to 15 conference with a central theme of helping farmers and producers to grow their businesses.

Kevin Wallington, the sales manager with Polar Egg in Hay River, welcomed the conference, which was sponsored by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI).

“I’m very excited that people have taken the time and that we have regional offices and the GNWT who support a gathering of people who are really excited about the potential of a food industry and a food network in the Northwest Territories,” he said after the discussions on Oct. 14.

Wallington said it was “really fantastic” to see people agree on ways to move forward and help each other build a healthy food network in the North.

There are several benefits from the conference, he added, noting it helps people know that they’re not alone and there are other people facing similar challenges with things like location, creating a sustainable business and accessing funding.

“I think whenever we’re able to get together and see that, it’s encouraging to see that a) we’re not alone and b) that if we can work collectively together to find solutions in the North we’ll see an industry that will emerge that isn’t reliant on one singular thing, but it’s a collective of many for a common goal,” he said.

Approximately 40 people attended the conference from Gameti, Jean Marie River, Sambaa K’e, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, the Sahtu, Inuvik and Yellowknife.

Wallington said he was encouraged by an initial discussion about the possible creation of an NWT agriculture association to represent food growers, advocates and producers.

“And I hope that people leave inspired in what they’re doing, encouraged to continue the work that they’re doing and also that they’ve made connections here so that we can help one another,” he said.

Topics discussed at the conference included raising chickens, egg production, beekeeping, Northern agricultural research, greenhouse management, cold storage and root cellars, the business of farming, and a review of the Growing Forward 2 federal funding program.

Tracy St. Denis, the director of economic diversification with ITI, said there have been meetings on agriculture in the past in the NWT.

“There have been regional agriculture meetings and agriculture conferences, but this is the first time where we’ve actually gotten food growers and food producers together as a group,” she said.

St. Denis said the conference was an opportunity to help facilitate more discussion because different people growing food in different regions of the NWT sometimes have the same challenges and can learn from each other.

“We kind of had a real variety of different types of food growers,” she said of the participants at the conference.

St. Denis noted it was great to have the gathering in Hay River because the community has a long history of growing food.

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