Urban farmers have called on city council to do more to support them if they’re serious about a food and agriculture strategy.
The strategy, first announced in 2019, was set up as a way for northerners to grow their own food and boost the economy and food security at the same time.
Kyle Thomas, one of the owners of Bush Order Provisions says it’s a good step but leaves a number of gaps.
Thomas called for a number of things, including a communal abattoir — to encourage more livestock businesses — incentives for collecting rainwater for commercial use and tax breaks for people starting agriculture businesses.
“It is a big financial investment for us to buy property at market value and to be paying regular property taxes, while we’re still converting the property into farmland,” he said. “Essentially, we don’t have revenue on that land because we need to make sure that it’s nutrient dense to be able to grow produce.”
Councillor Niels Konge said he was cautious about granting subsidies to one industry when all industries want subsidies. He added that commercial agriculture enterprises already receive greater tax breaks than some other industries.
“I always have a challenge when any specific industry comes along and asks for very specific supports,” he said.
“Everybody wants a subsidy and that’s the challenge as a councillor — how do we figure out what specific groups should get these subsidies, for how long should they get these subsidies — because it’s quite difficult to roll subsidies back.”
City administration says there are some regulation issues with things like greenhouse construction — whether the territorial government or the city has jurisdiction — which still has to be worked out. Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said these could be looked at during the city’s zoning bylaw rewrite. Alty added agriculture stakeholders would be consulted during that process.
Etienne Croteau, chef and owner of Boreal Flavour says he can’t afford to buy a lot of land currently because of the impact COVID-19 is having on business. He suggested the city leases land near Kam Lake for businesses, to help them get started.
“If we want this agriculture project to take place and be taken seriously, I really think that the city has to be involved somehow to get access to lands,” said Croteau.
Croteau added that agriculture may need more support at first to get off the ground, as it is less profitable than some other industries.
Thomas added fees for stalls in the farmer’s market, a key space for fledgling agriculture businesses, have become prohibitively expensive for newer businesses.
“While we may be established as longtime vendors, there are new vendors who can’t afford that initial fee for the farmers market,” said Thomas.
Thomas said supporting agriculture businesses will help improve the territory’s sustainability and reduce food miles — the distance food has to travel from the south of Canada to grocery stores in the NWT.
The city’s economic development strategy, which was passed on Monday, agriculture and food are highlighted as one of the city’s key sectors.
Councillors will continue to debate the specifics of the plan at their next regular council meeting on April 12.