Jackie Milne, President of Hay River's Northern Farm Training Institute. (2016)
A short while ago, the Government of the Northwest Territories signed an agreement to develop backyard agriculture by-laws.
The by-laws essentially allow for the urban farming of goats and chickens, as well as beekeeping. It’s dependent on the regulations chosen by municipalities in the North.
Jackie Milne, President of Hay River’s Northern Farming Institute, says the by-laws aren’t particularly new, nor are they any help.
“This work is redundant,” Milne says with a very flat tone. “A few years ago, I actually helped Hay River Agriculture Plan grant from the Government to do an agriculture strategy. It was done by a professional agriculture organization from Alberta. It systematically addressed all of the different types of by-laws that can exist in a community that can be reviewed or altered. It’s publicly available.
“So now,” Milne continued. “Is that the focus of what we should be focusing on? Making by-laws for little urban backyards that are really more like pets.”
Director of Economic Development, Tracy St. Denis, says these by-laws are just a beginner’s tool in the grand scheme of things.
“These are templates,” St. Denis says. “They’re for communities to use in case they want to get into the beginning stages of backyard farming. Sometimes these communities don’t have the ability to actually develop these by-laws, so that’s why we’re working with the NWT.”
Milne, however, feels work needs to ramp up – not stall.
“People have been asking for decades to have the land access issue addressed. We don’t even have the provision to have agriculture leases. If you look at Growing Forward 2, it says right in there that, five years ago, the government was going to focus on the access to land. That was five years ago.”
“Agriculture is a sector. It’s like mining… It’s so neglected, it’s pathetic. It’s shameful.”
Not everything comes all at once. That’s what the Government is reassuring. When asked about Growing Forward 2, St. Denis stresses that the Territory needs to walk before it can run.
“The Federal Government realizes that the Northwest Territories is almost at the beginning stages of developing our agriculture sector. They’re aware that we are literally just starting to grow our industry. They’ve been really flexible with their support that they’ve provided the NWT because of our inexperience.”
There’s a lot to breakdown when it comes to what agriculture could do in the North. It’s been an active issue for years. Milne understands why the Government would want to acknowledge urban farming as a possibility; however, she’s blatantly frustrated by the lack of progress,
“We have such a need for food. To nurture, to build up and grow the food side. It’s great if these by-laws are going to help the average person grow food; but, let’s focus on the real thing here,” she sternly presses. “Agriculture is a sector. It’s like mining. It’s a key area that can contribute in a lasting way to our economy in the North. It’s so neglected, it’s pathetic. It’s shameful.”
Milne’s anger overshadows the progress around the Territory. While the NWT is worlds behind in producing a sustainable food source, it’s not completely barren.
“I think we have some really great examples across the territory on what our food producers are doing,” says St. Denis. “Whether it’s the potato project in Fort Good Hope, or the fact that we have food growers in Hay River [with Jackie] that are selling food – that’s great. They’re supporting people who purchase locally. It’s an exciting time but it’s still in the early stages.”
There’s progress around us. That said, with so much inexperience in the Territory, it’s up to the people who want agriculture to continue the progress.
“We, the people, are the ones who are going to do this,” exclaims Milne. “We have to educate ourselves, to power ourselves. We have to understand policy. We need to understand agreements and we need to understand our rights. And then we can help the people who are supposed to be there helping us.
“These people have been put in the position to make decisions and they have no real expertise. They’re working outside of their field. It’s like asking a hair dresser to fix a Cummins diesel engine. They’re supposed to deliver food to our communities and they just think that it’s going to work out. They’re focusing on something that just won’t get the job done. I get that it’s supposed to be a start, but we need more.“