Agriculture is defined as the practice of growing plants and other crops and the rearing of animals for food, human needs, or economic gain. Agriculture in the Northwest Territories (NWT) encompasses a range of food and activities including: growing fruits and vegetables, compositing, farming, gathering wild herbs and plants for food and medicinal purposes, raising livestock and harvesting honey.
Agriculture is well rooted in NWT history. Community gardens, tended by missionaries, existed in many communities. With the development of more-efficient transportation infrastructure in the North, the cost of importing food declined significantly and the consumption of locally-grown food gave way to imported product. The potential to grow local food, however, remains significant; as is the opportunity to increase production in all communities.
The following activities make up the NWT’s agriculture sector:
- Commercial egg production
- Community gardens and greenhouses
- Backyard gardening
- Commercial potato production
- Farmers and community markets
- Harvesting of wild edibles
There are 32 community gardens and 25 community greenhouses in the NWT. Every region has at least one commercial agricultural operation. Farmers markets exist in many communities thanks to the innovative and creative efforts of local food producers. Community markets are also popular for selling value-added food items, such as jams and canned vegetables. Harvesting and selling wild edibles such as morel mushrooms and birch syrup is an emerging trend. There is also a growing interest in Chaga mushroom harvesting.
The GNWT introduced the NWT's first-ever commercial agriculture strategy in the spring of 2017. The NWT agriculture sector is not a significant contributor to overall gross domestic product (GDP).
- Inuvik transformed the old community arena into a greenhouse and crops are harvested and sold to the community.
- A small scale chicken egg production farm in Inuvik sells eggs to the Inuvik Greenhouse so that they can be resold along with crops.
- Economic opportunities include the Inuvik Arctic Market which runs every Saturday over the summer and the Veggie Box program, which sells boxes of local vegetables for between $25 and $35.
- Norman Wells is home to the largest potato operation in the territory. At its peak, Green Enterprises NWT was producing in excess of 30,000 pounds of potatoes annually. The operation also produces turnips, radishes, cabbage, beets, and has raised and butchered pigs and chickens.
- Sahtu Gardens has acquired equipment to establish a year-round hydroponic lettuce operation and has imported 100 chickens to produce farm fresh eggs.
- In Fort Good Hope, McNeely’s Nursery is now entering its third year of operation
North Slave Region
- The 2016 harvest of Gameti’s community garden yielded more than 3,000 pounds of vegetables, chicken, turkey and pigs.
- Vendors at the Yellowknife Farmers Market include commercial food growers, and hobby gardeners. In 2015, weekly sales averaged approximately $20,000 contributing to an estimated economic impact of over $1 million for the season.
South Slave Region
- Hay River is home to the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) - a non-profit society that operates on a 260-acre “campus”. NFTI has led pilot projects experimenting with new techniques and crops to determine their suitability for growing in the NWT. (www.nftinwt.com(link is external)).
- Polar Egg is the NWT’s largest commercial egg operation. Quota for the territory is 3,083,608 dozen eggs or approximately 121,211 laying chickens. Polar Eggs are sold in Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Yellowknife, with plans to expand to other communities.
- Greenwood Gardens, a for-profit business, is a family-run market garden in Hay River’s Paradise Valley. Situated on 12 acres of land, produce is grown in both greenhouses and raised outdoor beds. Hay River and Fort Smith both have farmer’s markets where much of the locally grown produce is sold.
- There are two commercial operators near Fort Simpson: Forest Gate and Greenhouse and Dehcho Gardens. Both operations sell crops to surrounding communities, travelling as far as Yellowknife to participate in the farmer’s market.
- Dehcho Gardens recently expanded to ten acres and now offers a u-pick service where local community members can pick and purchase their own vegetables.
- The NWT Agriculture Strategy and Food Production Plan aims to increase domestic food production, improve distribution networks for NWT-produced foods and to increase producer and supplier opportunities.
- Under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the $1.21 million is invested annually to support the growth of agriculture in the NWT.
- Northern Food Development Program
- Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development Program