Yellowknife, during its formative years, was not just pulling gold out of the ground but carrots too.
Back in the 1940s and ’50s, many homes had garden patches out back, or out front, or on whatever side of the yard had better sun. At one time, Bevan’s Farm, where the Multiplex and Fieldhouse now exist, was home to a dairy herd of 25 cattle and 2,500 chickens.
People grew crops and raised animals here not because Yellowknife was a good place to set up a farm but out of necessity. This was before Highway 3, daily air travel, and wide-scale industrial farming down south. Back then, if you wanted fresh meat or vegetables you had to grow it or kill it yourself, or at least barter with someone who had some.
Eventually came the highway, grocery stores and refrigerated trucks. There was no longer any need to grow one’s own food so few people did. But with remorseless increases to the cost of living, an impending carbon tax, and a growing conscientiousness toward the environment and the impact of long-distance transporting of goods, Yellowknife once again is sensing the need to go local.
A hydroponics start-up by the Yellowknife Co-op grocery store and a cannabis greenhouse touted by Yellowknife entrepreneur Jordan Harker hearkens back to that pioneer spirit that raised crops and cattle despite the obstacles of growing food north of Great Slave Lake.
And hopefully they will provide a few job opportunities too. Harker told city council earlier this week he expects his cannabis grow-op will create around 12 full-time 20 to 25 part-time jobs. He hopes to supply the NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission with product and thus, do an end run around southern suppliers for the now legal recreational and medicinal drug.
Why can’t we grow our own vegetables? Or for that matter, our own weed?
In the old days, the intense subarctic cold and and pollution from mining made local agriculture a difficult and sometimes impossible task. But there is no more mining to pollute and greenhouse technology is much improved. The co-op greenhouse expects to produce year-round. There is even a plan to livestream the greenhouse so customers can watch their food grow.
As we reach the quarter point of the 21st century, the political and economic reality has changed much in the way we think about food access and sustainability. Wrestling with climate change and the cost of living with an incoming price on carbon have been difficult realities for Northerners, but also an opportunity. As a result, residents are re-imagining how best to feed themselves.
In recent years, the city has made some gains with a weekly farmers’ market and expanding garden plots in every neighbourhood. A recent apiculture symposium to develop beekeeping, as well as schools and homes keeping chickens or bees. These initiatives demonstrate a growing desire to be self-sufficient when it comes to cultivating food.
The NWT has a long way to go in developing food self-sustainability when compared to neighbouring jurisdictions like Alaska, the Yukon and Alberta but the issue deserves greater attention from residents and governments in helping Yellowknife become more affordable – and greener too.