Manitoba provides $193K to help ease food costs in north

The province is giving $193,000 to the Northern Healthy Foods Initiative to help improve access to healthy food in northern Manitoba, a news release issued Monday says.

Funding will help food security initiatives, Alan Lagimodiere says

The funding is in response to intensified food costs in Northern Manitoba. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

The province is giving $193,000 to the Northern Healthy Foods Initiative to help improve access to healthy food in northern Manitoba, a news release issued Monday says.

The pandemic has increased existing challenges of getting healthy food in the area, with supply chain interruptions causing rising food prices and shortages of healthy food options, Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere said in the news release.

The Northern Healthy Foods Initiative is a Manitoba Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations program that works with five regional partners to reduce food security issues in northern Manitoba.

The extra funding is intended to ease some of the strain placed on many northern communities by the pandemic, the news release says.

The funding will be allocated to the five community-based regional partners: Bayline Regional Roundtable, Four Arrows Regional Health Authority, Frontier School Division, Food Matters Manitoba and the Northern Association of Community Councils.

They will decide how to allocate the money. Funds are typically used to purchase seeds, soils and gardening supplies for spring programming and help other projects that enhance food security in the north, the news release says.

Rising prices intensified

Linda Payeur, Executive Director of the Northern Association of the Community Councils, said that while urban areas have been experiencing rising food costs, food prices in northern Manitoba are being further intensified due to their associated transportation costs.

The Northern Association of the Community Councils represents 48 communities in Northern Manitoba with the goal of achieving sustainable community development. They provide direct training to communities with activities such as beekeeping, food dehydration and greenhouse gardening, Payeur said.

She said the funding announced today hints back to Manitoba's Northern Food Prices Report from 2003. The report concluded that community-based consultations and partnerships were needed to address food insecurity in northern Manitoba.

Payeur believes long-term commitment is needed to solve food security in the north.

"It has to be something that isn't, you know, here today and gone tomorrow," she said. "It's a resource that will take time to rebuild on, and we're seeing that rebuild."

Over the last two years, Payeur said her organization has seen a sharp increase in the number of participants wanting to start harvesting chickens, and the funding will assist them in meeting that demand.

She said the money will also create opportunities for communities in northern Manitoba to share equipment, knowledge and food.

"Food security is not about a food hamper showing up on your doorstep today," Payeur said. "Food security is about creating a network and resources that will provide long-term nutritional benefits."

Reg Klassen, superintendent of Frontier School Division, told CBC News that the new funding will help students in Northern Manitoba learn how to garden and become self-sufficient.

He said northern communities, especially in isolated or remote areas, are always more vulnerable to higher costs. Klassen also noted that the pandemic has made more northern Manitoba residents dependent on general stores in their communities, where food is more costly than in urban centres.

"Anything that we see here in southern Manitoba, we can always assume that it's probably worse in northern Manitoba simply because you have costs of shipping."

One solution is to learning how to produce your own food. Klassen said many people in Northern Manitoba want a way of procuring food in their communities because it provides a level of security.

He said the funding is a significant step forward, and will make students more capable and food secure.

"When your family has to eat, you're willing to pay almost any price to make sure that they have food," Klassen said.