Food in Far North Indigenous communities costs more than twice that of Toronto or Thunder Bay and typically fresh produce is so expensive that it is un-affordable, leading to the only viable options being canned or boxed foods which do not always provide a nutritionally balanced meal.
AgriTech North, an indigenous-, disabled-, LGBTQ-owned indoor agriculture social enterprise seeks to change that.
"We have not been very vocal about this organization, so we're just letting the cat out of the bag, so to speak. In regard to the operation, everyone that we have spoken with has been head over heels with the endeavour." said founder Benjamin Feagin Jr.
"We have over 20 academic partners across North America and each time that we present this endeavour, there is a lot of support from an international audience."
AgriTech North's social mission is to lower Far North Indigenous community fresh produce costs by 25 per cent and increase access to fresh produce in communities that do not already have access year-round.
"I've been gone from Dryden for well over 10 years and I started to think of ways that I could come back to Dryden with my fiance and combine our specialties into doing something positive for the community," said Feagin.
"We spoke with a number of our family members, Tyler Peacock at the City of Dryden, and Jen Springett of Local Food and Farm Co-op who specifically who enlightened us to the food security issue which had grown out of control over the last two years with COVID-19 supply chain issues that have been occurring and continue to occur. They continue to support us as well as AgriTech North develops, which we are grateful for."
AgriTech North says that simply sending food to meet immediate needs is only part of the solution to the food security crises in Far North Indigenous communities; we need bold action to establish infrastructure that ensures a regular and sustainable supply of fresh produce year-round in Far North communities.
In order to achieve their goals, AgriTech has launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe and 50 per cent of all donations will go towards delivering fresh produce to Far North Indigenous communities in Spring of 2022, with the remaining 50 per cent going toward the infrastructure to ensure that the supply is always available by growing fresh produce year-round at AgriTech North.
Nutrition North subsidies will help ensure the costs of the fresh produce are not inflated in the process of distribution to the Far North Indigenous communities.
AgriTech North is working with the City of Dryden, Dryden Regional Airport, Indigenous Aerospace, Clark's Air Service, 807 Food Co-op, and Loomex Group to establish long-term food production and distribution infrastructure to serve all of Northwestern Ontario, with specific emphasis on Far North Indigenous communities.
"We've received support not only from the municipal government, but provincial and federal as well throughout this whole process, Ché Curtis-September at FedNor, who used to be at the NOHFC, has been instrumental at inspiring us to keep pressing forward and connecting us with appropriate funding opportunities to make this all possible," said Feagin,
"It's been very encouraging to have community members that have a unified focus to drive towards the resolution of these food security issues."
AgriTech North plans to rely heavily on contributions from grants and other fundraising efforts to keep operating costs, and food sale prices, low and they refuse to take on angel or equity investment to ensure that 100 per cent of what is grown by AgriTech North is dedicated to Canadian residents.
AgriTech North's business model starts off with producing 1,000 heads or bunches of leafy greens and 4,500 ounces of herbs weekly, which enables them to lower the cost of production by producing larger quantities. Then, in year two, they plan to start growing fruiting crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. In this way, they are able to sell at wholesale prices when the food product is intended to go through distribution to Far North Indigenous communities.
"So our first year system is sponsored in part by ZipGrow's ZipFarm and they're an Ontario based firm that manufactures the system here in Ontario," said Feagin.
"And that's what we're basing our leafy greens and culinary herbs operation off of and that's a drip hydroponics system vertical farm and that's the picture that's in our GoFundMe."