Welcome to a new feature on United Way Yukon’s website called Community Q&A. Here we check in with various groups and individuals who are working to help Yukoners to illustrate the important work being done.
Today we check in Chris Pinkerton and the Yukon Energy Food Security Network. This initiative started in April 2021 and has focused on food and community-building across the Yukon.
Chris also coordinates the Food Network Yukon group which is based in Whitehorse which has been operating since 2012.
WHAT IS THE YUKON ENERGY FOOD SECURITY NETWORK?
It’s an initiative to build food security on a local level in Yukon communities. We have groups in Carmacks, Mayo and Haines Junction. This year we are going into Watson Lake which I am really happy about.
What I do, as coordinator, is that I go into a given community and I make contacts with anyone and everyone who is involved in food. That means farmers and producers, people distributing food from food banks to grocery stores to restaurants, and people who are funding food distribution so various organizations. And then I’m trying to connect your average community members as well as people in need into that whole mix. When it comes to developing food security it’s about getting people to work together: Helping to support our farmers, our local producers, helping them get their products into the hands of local distributors, and finding support or funding that could help create better access to food.
HOW DO YOU ASSESS FOOD SECURITY IN THE YUKON OVERALL?
The territory itself is incredibly food insecure.
As many people know, the Yukon is on the back-end of the supply chains. This means that it costs more and takes longer to ship to the territory. We’ve especially seen during the pandemic how vulnerable we are to disruptions of these lines.
In terms of the YE Food Security Network, in 2020, our partner organizations came together at the start of the pandemic to assess the state of food security in Yukon. Our researcher was able to contact all the communities and look at food barriers there; research what programs were in place, and to seek recommendations on what the people felt would help reduce food insecurity in their community. We used that document as the basis for our work.
Since the new year we’ve been collecting data in about emergency meal distribution. In Whitehorse. We can estimate that food insecurity would account for about 6500 missed meals every day. That’s approximately 2.3 million meals missed annually in Whitehorse alone.
I find this shocking. It’s eye-opening. When we look at Stats Canada, they say the Yukon has the 3rd-highest rate of food insecurity in Canada behind NWT and Nunavut. They measure the approximate rate of food insecurity in Yukon as 17% of the population. On its own, that’s a significant number, however when we break it down into the number of missed meals daily, it really hits home how big that number is.
WHO IS MOST FOOD INSECURE IN THE YUKON?
We see that people who are in minority groups, women, children, they tend to be the most at-risk when it comes to being food insecure. Many of our initiatives target specifically these groups. We see that people often have good ideas, but they don’t necessarily have the resources to see them put into action.
HOW DO THE COMMUNITIES COMPARE TO WHITEHORSE?
If the number across the Yukon is 17% food insecurity (as measured by Stats Canada) the rate is higher in communities. Whitehorse is the central point of distribution for food and we see a higher rate of food insecurity in communities. For some communities we are looking at 20 to 30% food insecurity.
WHAT PROGRAMS ARE YOU PROUD TO SEE DEVELOPING?
We currently have 4 active food security networks in Yukon communities: Whitehorse, Carmacks, Haines Junction, and Mayo. In the new year Watson Lake will be our 5th community network.
Food Network Yukon is holding monthly food security meetings in Whitehorse and bi-weekly food distribution meetings with agencies and groups in town that regularly give out food. They discuss common challenges and assess demand.
In Carmacks, new garden and greenhouse projects will be starting this spring. They’ve also undertaken a project to reduce community food waste by sharing information and ideas with the Haines Junction group.
Speaking of Haines Junction, the Food Association recently achieved its charitable status, and has been sharing ideas around developing a community pantry program with the Carmacks group.
In Mayo, one of the things the group is doing is reviving the old community garden. Another cool thing in Mayo is that the grocery store has a hydroponic unit to provide fresh greens and herbs to community members. That is maintained stocked free-of-charge by Cold Acre Farms based in Whitehorse as a social enterprise to educate people about indoor growing.
Starting in April we’re going to be going to Watson Lake and establishing a regular network group to talk about strategy for Watson Lake and build on strengths there. Watson Lake is in the process of establishing a community food hub which is something we’re looking to establish in more communities. If you think of a food bank: You go there, get your food, you leave, and the engagement stops there. The idea of a food hub is that it promotes community engagement. You could pick up your emergency food but you could also participate in a cooking class, help cook a meal to help share with community members or help in a garden. There might be a central area where local farmers can see their goods distributed by the community. Other NGOs could come in to provide services — the goal is to show that it’s all connected.
WHAT ARE YOU SEEING WHEN IT COMES TO INFLATION AND THE COST OF LIVING?
It is absolutely getting more difficult. The dark humour is that since we started it (inflation and food insecurity) has been getting worse…. Sometimes it can feel like we haven’t made an impact though really, I know we have. We are on the far end of the supply chain here in the Yukon. It costs more to get supplies to us. Things also arrive in worse conditions. If other southern locations need something, sometimes they’ll take things off the trucks and they don’t make it north. It feels like it’s going to keep getting worse before it gets better. But that’s why it’s important to find people who care. To get involved, to make sure that kids don’t make go to bed hungry.
CAN YOUR GROUP USE VOLUNTEERS?
We are absolutely interested in volunteers to get involved. We encourage people to reach out. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
The actual work they’d be doing would depend on the time of year and where they’re volunteering. We often refer people to the food bank or other agencies where they’re needed. People can help by packing food hampers, delivering food to people, possibly working in a garden, there is always ways to get involved and plenty to do.
The YE Food Network is focusing on food security across Yukon. The goal is the establishment of a collaborative food security network within each Yukon community.
This a partnership between United Way Yukon, the Whitehorse Food Bank and the Yukon Anti Poverty Coalition, energized with support and sponsorship from Yukon Energy.
In 2020 this agency published a comprehensive report on food security in Yukon. The next step is to build on what has been learned and mobilize volunteers in all communities to make healthy, affordable food more avaialble.
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