A long-awaited implementation plan for the city’s agriculture strategy reached the council table during Monday’s governance and priorities committee meeting.
The strategy, called the GROW: Yellowknife Agriculture and Food Strategy, was passed in May 2019, however, the follow-up implementation plan has taken nearly two years to complete.
A final vote won’t take place until the April 12 regular meeting.
During Monday’s meeting, council heard from two emerging food producers who both emphasized the challenges of getting agriculture business off the ground, and they advised where the city can help alleviate the remaining barriers for the burgeoning industry.
Kyle Thomas, co-owner of Kam Lake-based Bush Order Provisions Ltd., and Etienne Croteau of Boreal Flavour both spoke of similar concerns. Thomas gave a more thorough presentation, making recommendations that included allowing for small livestock in appropriate areas; establishing clear guidelines for greenhouses to help growers; improving water, soil and compost access for agriculture businesses; and calling for more food and plant growth and direct sales by farmers in the city.
He also called for assistance by way of water rate subsidies and property tax reductions to help with overall costs of operation.
“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, essentially,” Thomas said. “We don’t have revenue on that land because we need to make sure that it’s nutrient dense to be able to grow. So an incentive or a bit of a tax break could even be something … over the term of the first couple of years until the business is sustainable and operating at a normal pace.”
Thomas suggested that the local agricultural sector might deserve additional relief from the city and territorial government given its goal of addressing food costs and supply.
“I think it (tax relief or land cost reduction) should be specific to agriculture businesses because we’re trying to reduce food miles, we’re trying to bring more sustainability here and the pandemic was a perfect example of that,” he said. “Food chains were cut off, but then if we look further back during the 2016 forest fire season, our roads were cut off so we were losing out on food and food chain supply.”
Croteau called on the city to lease some of its lots for vegetable growth because it’s difficult to buy land as a small-start-up and hard to find arable land of the right size.
He estimated that he would need about a quarter-hectare lot to grow vegetables for use in his commercial kitchen. For a business the size of his, it would not make financial sense to buy a whole lot, he said.
“So the lease at a reasonable cost based on all our budget, I think it could be a nice support to give some room for agriculture,” Croteau said. “Councillors asked why they should prioritize agriculture, but I just want the city to give a place for agriculture and be on the same page with us. If you want to implement the strategy, then you need solutions and you need to make things happen and this includes access to water and land. Those are the priorities to support the project.”
Mayor Rebecca Alty said the leasing idea would be a novel one for the city as land is currently usually leased for limited purposes – namely for recreation and non-profit-organizations. She cited the Yellowknife Dog Trotters Association and Yellowknife Golf Club as examples.
Alty added that many provisions that producers are calling for or that are recommendations presented in the implementation plan could take effect in myriad ways, noting that the city’s zoning bylaw is set for an overhaul later this spring while the business licence bylaw is to be updated before the end of the year and the building bylaw is also to be examined in 2021.