Highway closure sparks questions about food security
Yukon growers say increasing local food production is possible
Food security is on the minds of many Yukoners after washouts closed the Alaska Highway last week, causing supermarket shelves to empty of milk, eggs and produce.
Trucks carrying produce to stores are now moving again, but Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson says the road closure raised questions about how prepared Yukoners are for a food shortage.
"We have no emergency food provisions in this territory," she said. "We rely upon individuals to pull together their own emergency foods. Well, for many families who are living paycheque to paycheque, they don’t buy or keep three or four days worth of groceries on hand.
"What are we doing in terms of our own resiliency around developing an agricultural strategy that includes production of foodstuffs, from potatoes and wheat and also livestock?"
Hanson said Yukon needs a food security strategy.
Yukon trucker Albert Van De Kraats doesn't agree. He said everything worked as it was supposed to during the shutdown.
"For us to deal with a lengthy two, three, four-day shutdown, we’re used to it. We’re equipped for it," he said. "We know how to deal with those things. But for the community as a whole, it was a shock."
He said he isn’t sure whether local growers could have helped.
"You could say that, yes, those people should step up, but the reality is they wouldn’t have anything to step up with yet; the growing season is just starting," he said. "The frost has just come out of the ground."
Warren Zakus, vice-president of the Yukon Agricultural Association, said local growers would like to produce more food but it's expensive and Yukon lacks the infrastructure to do it.
"It's do-able," he said. "Our association has been working towards this goal for many, many years, working with the government trying to set up some facilities for processing and for cold storage. I think with some northern ingenuity, there's ways to make all of this work and there is interest from the producers to do it."
Zakus said local growers sell everything they produce and they don't stockpile. He said there are a couple of producers that could supply more produce on short notice, but most can't ramp up quickly.
Colin O'Neill, marketing manager for the Fireweed Community Market in Whitehorse, said local growers can help feed Yukon, but they need the community's support.
"It’s just a matter of having the consumer meet the farmer halfway so that there isn’t waste, there isn’t farm produce being produced that isn’t being consumed by somebody."