Farmers from a range of countries head to Yellowknife this week for the second annual Grow N.W.T. conference, which addresses farming in the age of climate change.

“Agriculture is not a fast-turnaround sector. We can’t just go, OK, we’re going to change next year. You’ve got to develop systems, crops and land,” said Janet Dean, executive director of the Territorial Agrifood Association or TAA, the organization hosting the conference. 

“We need to be able to forecast a little bit further out. We need to be far more proactive.”

On Thursday this week, the conference will begin with a forum focusing on growers. The scope broadens to other industry sectors on Friday, then the conference ends on Saturday with a hackathon to help inspire innovative solutions to some key issues in the industry, like making climate change work to the advantage of food growers.

Dean said there’s a common misconception that rising temperatures as a result of climate change will facilitate farming in the North, with extended growing seasons and bigger yields, when the truth appears more complicated.

“The crops change, the production methods change, the water demands change,” said Dean. “How can we be ready for what’s coming instead of waiting for it to come?” 

Communities across the North experience such different growing conditions, it is important to consider the strengths of different regions when planning for the future of food production, said Kevin Wallington, TAA board president and former owner of Polar Egg.

“We’re starting out afresh,” said Wallington. “There’s a rich history of food production in the North, but that’s shifted significantly when you take a look back in the 70s and 80s. So, things have changed.” 

Wallington says he hopes to see the emergence of a “food hub” where food produced in the North feeds the North. Conferences like this one play an important role in advancing that goal, he said.

“When we look at how important cooperation and collaboration is, these conferences are paramount,” said Wallington. 

“You get to meet other people that are likeminded, you get to talk with other people that have gone through a whole bunch of life experiences and business experiences around food.”

“If our climate is changing to a model that’s existed elsewhere, we need to look at that elsewhere,” Dean continued.

International representation

Food growers from around the Northern Hemisphere will attend the conference for that reason, with representatives from the Northwest Territories, Alaska, Denmark, Sweden, and Greenland. 

Dean says knowledge exchange between those countries can foster better agricultural practices for the changing climate in the territory.

“We’ve got growers, we’ve got small-scale food processors, producers, harvesters, wild crafters,” said Dean. “We’ve also got the people that support them.”

That includes economic development officers, food retailers, Indigenous pathfinders, representatives from the GNWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, and federal agency Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“There’s so much potential if we are able to work together and if we’re able to be collaborative and cooperative in how we approach development,” said Wallington.

“Science and industry need to understand that we go together and both of us need to look at climate change,” said Dean.

Dean says the GNWT has a progressive vision for the future of agriculture in the territory and has supported the TAA in its efforts to connect with territorial and federal funding. 

More investment in sustainable northern food production advances food sovereignty by building resilience against the impacts of climate change and fostering relationships with Indigenous governments, Dean says.

“Food security just means we can get it, but we need to produce it, and that’s true food security,” said Dean. “We don’t have to rely on a road system or grocery prices or subsidized Nutrition North programs if we’re actually having food sovereignty. So, it’s a shift more towards that.”

“I think sometimes the expectation of trying to feed the world can be an overwhelming thing,” said Wallington. 

“Every one of our communities, I would like to see them – be it their community governments, municipalities, or organizations within their community – talking about what is it that they would like to see? What does food sovereignty look like for them?”

By Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 20, 2024 at 05:52

This item reprinted with permission from   Cabin Radio   Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories