After years of discussion, Yellowknife is finally developing an urban agriculture strategy.
Urban agriculture, as defined by the city, is “the growing and raising of a diversity of plants and animals within the boundaries of the City of Yellowknife.”
On April 8, about two dozen citizens met to discuss the draft strategy at Northern United Place. The city is proposing a 10-year plan to implement the strategy once it is finalized.
“I think it’s so important that a forum like this is held,” said Hannah Eden, president of the Yellowknife Farmers Market. “It is time we started to have this conversation about food sustainability. We want to see more families in the garden. We want to see more individuals living off what they produce.”
The strategy is intended to guide people who are growing and harvesting food in the city, both for themselves and for sale.
Its main goals are to support urban agriculture through bylaws and policies, allow access to important resources such as soil and water, support educational opportunities around food and agriculture and help local growers to sell what they produce.
According to the draft strategy, the territory used to have a relatively thriving agricultural industry that included experimental farms, dairy producers and gardens.
In the days before cheaper air and road transport allowed Northern grocery stores to stock their shelves with southern produce, these farms were developed out of necessity, states the draft plan.
But Northern agriculture has been making a comeback thanks to higher fuel and food prices and a newfound appreciation for the benefits of locally grown food.
“I would say there’s a critical threshold of interest and passion around this,” said Janine de la Salle, spokesperson for Urban Food Strategies, a Vancouver-based firm the city has hired to help develop the new agriculture strategy. “There’s a lot of energy here.”
There a number of farmers making a go of it in the city, states the draft plan. One restaurant is hoping to grow its own food by opening a greenhouse. There is a Yellowknife apiary that selling locally produced honey and any gardener can sell what they grow at the farmers market.
But despite a profusion of chicken coops, beehives, community gardens and even a goat farm in Kam Lake, the city has no bylaws regulating urban agriculture.
“Yes, there’s a policy void in Yellowknife but we’re not alone,” said de la Salle. “That’s not uncommon for a local government. The leaders in Canada, cities like Vancouver and Toronto, have only been doing it for 25 years”
After it is finalized, the city may use the new strategy to amend several agriculture related policies, including zoning, business licensing, building and land administration.
De la Salle said this would ensure urban agriculture does not sow dissent between neighbours.
“We want to invite agriculture back into urban environments,” she said. “But in order to do that well you have to follow best practices. You have to have some kind of a plan so that neighbours aren’t driving each other crazy.”
“It’s a good time to bring in some rules and regulations,” she continued. “If you want to increase that activity, you need to make sure it grows in a way that works in an urban environment.”