Federal Agricultural Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau was in Whitehorse Monday to announced $15 million for new agricultural initiatives across all three territories.
Joining Bibeau for the announcement at the Gunner Nilsson and Mickey Lammers Research Forest were Yukon MP Larry Bagnell and Ranj Pillai, the territorial
minister responsible for agriculture.
“Your work here at the Research Farm is vital to Yukon and throughout the North – exploring crops that are adapted to the climate and changing growing conditions in
the Land of the Midnight Sun,” Bibeau said.
“It’s amazing what farmers can produce in this short growing season – everything from haskap berries to potatoes and honey – even apples and watermelons!”
The federal minister explained $9 million will bae managed by CANOR. Another $3.5 million will used to cover operations of a Northern Food Working Group and $2.5
million will be used for project implementation.
A call for proposals from the agricultural community will be going out this fall, Bibeau said.
“Helping all people living in Canada to have access to healthy food is something I care a lot about,” the federal minister told a modest crowd of officials and staff from the research facility north of Whitehorse.
“Here in the North, many communities have the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada.
“This is especially true for Northern Indigenous peoples.”
Bibeau said she finds it troubling that 17 per cent of Yukoners face food insecurity.
Addressing food insecurity, the minister went on to say, is a key action item in the Food Policy for Canada she launched last month.
Bibeau herself is from a rural agricultural community in Quebec.
Matt Ball, the director of the Yukon agricultural branch, took the crowd on a short tour of the research fields. He explained how the facility is experimenting with different crops.
They’re growing haskap, currant and Saskatoon berries, along with sour cherries.
They’re experimenting with oily seed canola and camelina plants to see if it’s possible to produce a stream of feed products for the local agriculture industry for chickens and other farm animals.
Ball pointed out there’s a research plot where they experimenting with bush beans and two types of potatoes, in partnership with the same research being conducted in Newfoundland.
Agriculture development officer Jesse Walchuk spent a couple of minutes explaining the mobile abattoir for red meat that slaughters and certifies meat for commercial sales – elk, bison, beef, pigs, sheep and goats.
Now in its 13th year of seasonal operation through the spring to fall, the abattoir handled and inspected 272 animals last year, he said.
Sonny Gray, the president of the Yukon Agricultural Association, told the gathering when he talks about the abattoir when he’s at conferences and such, he always gets questions about it.
It’s particularly helpful for the communities where there is also a growing desire to provide more local food products in stores, he said.
Gray explained in an interview the agricultural community in the territory is growing, and getting stronger.
There are approximately 150 farms operating in the Yukon. They range from commercial operations to smaller family farms producing food for their owners,
neighhours and friends.
The development of a private sector abattoir for red meat on the North Klondike Highway a couple of years ago has made a huge difference, he said.
Now, there’s an abattoir for poultry that is currently going through the certification process, he added.
When there is the ability to provide a commercial product to local restaurants and grocery stores all year-round, Gray said, the market grows stronger because customers begin asking for local product.
Food produced locally does indeed reduce the territory’s carbon footprint by diminishing dependency on long-haul transportation of goods, he said.
Pillai pointed out to the gathering Monday that transportation produces 62 per cent of the Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Pillai said the programs Bibeau announced will complement a number of initiatives already in the hopper.
Over a year ago, the Yukon and federal governments rolled out several programs under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. They resulted in $1.3 million in commitments to 173 agricultural programs, he said.
“We are changing the future of agriculture in the North by building sustainable local food production systems and improving food security,” Pillai said.
“We are addressing the challenges of northern agriculture by having everyone at the table.”
The Yukon’s MP told the audience the Yukon’s agricultural industry has its challenges to face, such as the short growing season. But overcoming challenges has always been a hallmark of the Yukon, said Bagnell.
“We are delighted to have supported some great local food initiatives, like the Fireweed Market, Cropbox, and the Whitehorse community garden which contributes so
much of its bounty to the (Whitehorse) Food Bank, and many other grassroots
As a representative of a rural agricultural riding, Bagnell said, the federal minister understands the industry. She knows the importance of food security, he said.
Bibeau told the audience the Food Policy for Canada has an ambitious vision.
“And that vision is: all people in Canada are able to access a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious, and culturally diverse food,” the minister said.
“And that Canada’s food system is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment, and supports our economy.”
Bibeau said federal officials will also be working with the territories and provinces to establish a national school food program.
“It is so important for all children to have the same opportunity to develop their full potential,” she told the audience.