At the downtown community garden in Whitehorse, a beekeeper tends to the newly built beehive in the fading evening light. Nearby, a gardener waters his small plot of potatoes, beans, and lettuce – a zucchini plant takes up a quarter of his raised bed box. Vegetables grow in plots on the other side of the garden. They’ll go to the food bank.
The community garden and the new apiary are examples of the sorts of projects and initiatives that the city could see more of with Whitehorse’s Local Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy.
City administrators began working on the strategy after community consultations in 2015 around its Economic Development Strategy pointed to the need for more robust urban agriculture for its economic security.
“The more we can replace imported food, the better – obviously – that is for the local economy,” said Jordan Stackhouse, the city’s economic development coordinator.
The benefits of a local food strategy span many areas of economic interest, from increased employment to keeping spending within the community.
One of the areas that the strategy will explore is the ways in which local food production could be made easier.
A barrier for community members is the lack of rules and regulations in place, according to Stackhouse and Larissa Lychenko, the planning intern who is working on the strategy as part of her graduate studies. Without regulations in place for urban agriculture programs, whenever a new initiative is suggested ad hoc, it can turn into a “difficult, bureaucratic process”, she says, that progresses slowly.
In creating the strategy, and throughout the consultations, the city plans to look at “zoning bylaws and regulations and how those may hinder the development of local agriculture”, Lychenko says.
The strategy may also impact city planning and bylaws to create an environment that supports and encourages urban agriculture. This could take the form of setting up future neighbourhoods to have the space and resources for community gardens and animal control bylaws that affect “what sort of animals people can have and the numbers,” according to Lychenko. By that, they mean things like people raising chickens or bees in their backyards.
While regulations make it easier for producers to farm, grow, and sell, Stackhouse says the community also needs to embrace local food. “Ideally it would be a change in culture for people in Whitehorse, and that’s really what we are striving for.”
He referenced the 100-mile diet as a culture and a lifestyle that successfully had people start thinking about local food first. Through education and leadership, Stackhouse says that Whitehorse could achieve a similar shift.
“All the ingredients for something successful already exists because the people are already there,” Stackhouse says. “I think with local food there is a real passionate community of local food producers that want to get to that, if you call it like a next level or want to do that as their source of income or their job or whatever and the city has a well-defined role to play in that.”
The Whitehorse Local Food Strategy comes on the heels of the Local Food Strategy for Yukon, which was released earlier this year. Yukon Government’s food strategy was the result of two years of consultation with the public and industry stakeholders and is focused on developing the agriculture sector and increasing access to local food. The city’s strategy has a narrower scope and is focused on what the city can do to support local food production.
“What [you will] see come out of our strategy is a focus on city-specific things such as our zoning bylaw, Official Community Plan and things like our environmental and community grants,” said Stackhouse. “While those broader goals such as researching cold climate food production are important, that will not be a part of the city’s mandate as a result of this strategy.”
The strategy will look at both ends of the spectrum – from career farmers to those growing food in their backyards. Under the advisement of Rod McCrae, Canada’s leading food planning expert, a draft strategy will be developed by spring of 2017, and will be available for review by local stakeholders. After the review is completed, the plan will be finalized and implementation will begin in summer of 2017.
To participate in the consultation process, complete the survey on the City of Whitehorse’s website by September 2, or contact the team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org