Nunavut food crisis sparks important discussion over local food production

As we’ve mentioned, one of the largest issues facing food in Canada this year is the critical state of food insecurity in Nunavut.

In the past months, awareness has spread across the nation as Canadians slowly wake up to the severity of obstacles faced by Nunavummiut in reliably accessing healthy food.

The cost of food in stores recently rose so high that many people could not afford even the most basic goods in their fridges.Hopefully, the rest of us started to catch on, with headlines eliciting statements such as: “we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist anymore.”

The awareness and response from groups like Feeding My Family and Helping our Northern Neighbours have continued to point out the gravity of the situation, and generate donations.

Policy has been a focus, with the Nutrition North program – and MP Leona Aglukkak – coming under fire for critical flaws.

In addition to policy reform, corporate greed and economic growth are, of course, drivers of more reliable access. Some point to the economic plan for hope.

To be sure, there are many angles to this. If headlines tend to simplify problem, communities such as Helping our Northern Neighbours and Feeding My Family are very illustrative of the wide range of solutions being sought.

In far-reaching discussions from people dealing with these issues every day, it’s shown, for example, that traditional food (known as country food), can be similarly expensive compared to store food, not to mention complicated by geographical and generational gaps. While some initiatives are helping ease these problems, most agree that country food cannot be the only sustainable source of local food.

Yet amidst the range of issues being tested, debated, and discussed the most lively may be about local food production.

It’s also probably the least mediatized, which can lead to the illusion that it’s something completely untested. Many in Nunavut are thinking about different solutions. Some say that they’re tired of being asked, “What about greenhouses?” by distant folk, as some naive kind of panacea, as if no one had thought about it before.

A debate has arisen, yet there seems to be a consensus growing amongst community members that as a complementary approach, local food production has angles worth exploring.

$9 for three tomatoes. Photo by Karl Reid from Feeding My Family Facebook page.

Everyone is a bit skeptical. Growing vegetables in the Nunavut is hard. It’s been tried before, and has proven to be very expensive.

However growing vegetables in the Arctic is on the rise and the Nunavut Food Security Coalition highlights its relative importance, as one of the six themes to secure food in the region. An oft-neglected voice, the Coalition is the product of extensive public consultation on poverty in Nunavut, the partnership of Inuit organizations, government, non-profits and more.

“Local food production can help increase food security and self-reliance,” they conclude. Planned activities include empowering people (against many barriers), helping them start their own local growing initiatives adapting other creative projects in northern communities, and supporting research on local food production and finding new ways to make it financially viable. They even propose a 5-year plan.

Some point to existing initiatives that could be developed further, partnered with, or adapted as models. Examples include the greenhouse at Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, the Iqaluit Greenhouse (a reused hockey arena) and the Arviat Greenhouse Project.

If nothing else, the conversation on groups such as Feeding My Family shows what we can all learn about self-sufficient methods. The extreme growing conditions in the Arctic have put the spotlight on the most creative methods, such as:

  • Biodome greenhouses that can withstand extreme weather
  • Grow boxes, as seen in the Arviat project
  • Underground greenhouses – or walipinis. Given the permafrost, this is one of the most ambitious methods. Some insist they are feasible. Others have suggested enhancing their heat retention with chickens.
  • Grow barrels and growing in old fridges, which involve much less
  • Sprouting at home
  • Expanding arctic animal husbandry, example: muskox.

Even if this only touches on one-sixth (or less) of a complex picture, there is some lively discussions going on that warrant our attention. As a country, our sources of food are becoming less secure. Sharing the newest and most effective ways to be self-sufficient behooves us all.

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