Hay River has a chance to lead the way to sustainable, area-appropriate food production in the North and even in Canada, according to producers who met June 5 at town hall to hammer out what they want in an eventual agriculture strategy for the local area.
“The heart of it is that we want to create a strategy for land use in the Northwest Territories,” said Territorial Farmers Association (TFA) president Jackie Milne. “Maybe that strategy isn’t present in Canada, either, but we can do it because the industrial model is harder to make succeed here.”
The meeting, run by Jordan Stackhouse, the economic co-ordinator for the Town of Hay River, was part of preliminary discussions to determine the farming community’s priorities before putting out a request for proposals from outside consultants, who would then eventually create the strategy. Some of the specific suggestions for the plan included bylaw reform and the creation of legislation that would help the farming industry at a territorial level. The focus, however, was on the broader goals and implications of the strategy.
Milne proposed a land trust system in which property zoned and used for agriculture would be protected from commercial and especially residential construction, independent of the town council or territorial government.
“Right now, there is a strong culture of land ownership,” she explained. “We need to at least look into alternatives where the money that would go to the banks in mortgage payments would stay in the community.”
She also noted farmland is currently priced the same as residential land, and that encourages speculation, which can drive producers out of business.
“With farming, it’s not the land itself that has worth, it’s what we can do with it, what we can make from it,” she said.
For Mike Wallington, assistant manager of Hay River Poultry Farms Ltd., the future of farming in the community has to be economically viable.
While producers in the rest of Canada enjoy cheaper gas, insurance breaks and often lower taxes on cultivated land, the NWT has no similar provisions in place.
“As an industry, we need cheaper ways of doing things,” Wallington said. “(The GNWT) wants to get into it, but they don’t know where to start.”
Mayor Andrew Cassidy, present in his capacity as executive director of the TFA which is funding the venture, hoped the eventual strategy for agriculture in Hay River could also serve as a guide for other northern communities.
“It has been pitched as a model,” Cassidy said. “The TFA wants this to go broader. We can create a road map for the territory.”
— Sarah Ladik