The Northern Farm Training Institute has garnered the attention of the federal minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
On Sept. 8, Lawrence MacAulay – accompanied by a delegation of municipal, territorial and federal politicians – toured the facility and the Polar Egg grading station.
MacAulay appeared interested in what he saw while visiting NFTI, the first stop on his tour.
“It’s certainly obvious that they can produce all kinds of fruits and vegetables here that are fresh,” he said in brief comments to The Hub.
“But there are also many, many other problems like making sure that the food that is produced here gets into the stores and into the supermarkets and this type of thing in the North,” he said.
MacAulay said government is trying to address such problems to make sure that the people in the North and everywhere in Canada have access to safe and reasonably-priced fresh food.
“Being a farmer, I never farmed in this area,” he noted. “The way you do it here is a little different if you’re in Prince Edward Island, and I’m sure it’s a little different than if you were in Florida.”
MacAulay said a lot of work has been done by different groups interested in food policy right across Canada.
“But first of all what we need to do is co-ordinate what we have, the good ideas that we do have, then make sure that all our governments work together and implement the program so that the citizens of the North and across the country have access to safe, top-quality, fresh food at a reasonable price, and at a reasonable price is pretty important,” he said.
Wally Schumann, the MLA for Hay River South and the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, said he appreciates MacAulay coming to the NWT.
“I believe it’s the first time an agriculture minister has ever come north of 60 or the Northwest Territories,” said Schumann. “So it’s a great honour to have him here.”
MacAulay is very aware of the agriculture situation right across the country, he noted. “But this gives you an opportunity to put some faces and realities to the challenges that we have in the Northwest Territories to the minister directly.”
Schumann said there are things that MacAulay can take away from his tour of NFTI, particularly what it’s doing around training northern farmers on how to produce food in the NWT.
Jackie Milne, the president of NFTI, was happy that MacAulay visited the organization’s farm campus,
“This is a huge visit,” she said.
Milne noted the minister was very interested and wanted to understand the plausibility of food production in the North.
“So I was able to point a few little things out, like even though we have a shorter growing season, because we have more daylight hours you’ve got to count the hours of sunlight,” she said. “So we have an extra month of sunlight.”
MacAulay was accompanied by Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod, territorial Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy, Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson, and Cory Vanthuyne, the chair of the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment.
“I think it’s really important to have ministers come to the North to see what we’re faced with in terms of food policy and growing food in the North,” said McLeod.
“We’ve had a chance to talk about many different issues that challenge producers in the Northwest Territories and we’ve made the point to the minister that there’s not one magic solution that will solve the issues,” the MP said. “The issues that are facing communities in the northern part of the NWT are different than the southern part, and it will take a number of different ways to approach it and many things to happen to have a really good viable production of food in the Northwest Territories.”
K’atlodeeche Chief Roy Fabian also had an opportunity to talk to MacAulay during the tour of NFTI.
“We’re giving him an opportunity to see what can be done here in the Northwest Territories by coming to this facility here,” said Fabian. “But it’s also an opportunity for someone like me to be able to tell him that as First Nations we’re really concerned about food safety issues and especially traditional food and things like that, and saying an operation like this can really help us to begin to produce traditional food so that we can actually sell it in the stores so that people can enjoy the food.”
The chief noted that, the less processed foods that Dene people eat, the healthier they are going to be.
Fabian noted a study has shown that traditional food now makes up 62 per cent of all food consumed on the Hay River Reserve.