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Food charter signed with launch
Organizers hope common principles can improve food accessibility

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Friday, January 22, 2016

With food prices rising as the dollar skinks and the cost of living is on the minds of many Yellowknifers, a guide to help people access food may be more critical than ever.

France Benoit, president of the Yellowknife Farmers Market, hosted the launch of the Yellowknife Food Charter at Northern United Place Jan. 15. The charter is a set of defined principles which seeks to guide community groups to work together to find ways of making food more accessible to consumers.

"I think food speaks to many people," Benoit said. "Lately in the news there has been talk of the price of food going up and the dollar going down. Issues like climate change has been talked about a lot and the cost of living was a great topic during the fall election period.

"Everybody has a connection to food and if we can get people to work together, we can get further ahead."

The launch and signing of the charter proved to be popular because around 125 to 150 people attended the event. Tracey Williams, who headed the drafting of the charter, reported that 90 people signed the charter. Four Yellowknife MLAs were present as were Mayor Mark Heyck and four city councillors.

Williams said many municipalities across Canada have been working more collaboratively to find better food strategies for the past 30 years. Having the charter can provide "a platform" for groups to work better with local governments to make better policy for food accessibility, Williams said.

"Taking a sustainable food system approach to our local food system can possibly offer multiple, new ways of looking at old problems," she said.

"The decision makers need to know where to focus their energy and what actions would make most impact on everybody's quality

of life here."

Organizers have been working on the charter since December 2014. Most of those efforts have been based on the understanding that food is a human right and that barriers to it should be removed where possible. Efforts have also been based on finding cost efficiencies and improving nutrition for consumers by focusing on locally grown products, Benoit said.

Benoit said there are many individuals and organizations in Yellowknife working toward improving how food gets to the public more efficiently but the point of the charter is to help groups connect and work toward a common goal of better food accessibility for everybody. Community gardens have multiplied in recent years while organizations like Yellowknife Food Rescue have worked with city organizations to save and redistribute leftover food in grocery stores. As well, the Yellowknife Farmers Market has launched and promoted the sale of local food. Aboriginal governments have also expressed interest in being more self-reliant by growing and raising their own food.

The city endorsed the charter last July and Heyck said he would like to use it to help council plan its priorities in the coming weeks. The growth of community gardens in neighbourhoods can be built upon in future developments, the level of success of the Yellowknife Farmers Market and consideration over the amount of food waste going into the landfill are among the food related items where municipal government could have a hand, he said.

Heyck said focusing on better food strategies with the charter can help local government address the cost of living, as well.

"Yellowknife has a proud tradition of gardening and growing community food," he said. "I think being involved with a food charter is not something we have done before but helps community members rediscover the importance of food."

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