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ColdAcre Food Systems becomes a First Nations-owned company

Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation announced its acquisition on Jan. 23
Micro greens grown at Cold Acre Food Systems in Whitehorse on July 26, 2020. (Yukon News file)

ColdAcre Food Systems Inc. is now majority-owned by the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation (NNDDC).

The NNDDC announced on Jan. 23 that it has a 51-per-cent controlling ownership in the company, which develops and manufactures food system technologies, including hydroponic grow units.

The corporation has owned one of those units since 2020.

One of the big reasons for the majority acquisition has to do with food sovereignty, said Jani Djokic, CEO of NNDDC.

Djokic said the corporation has gained an understanding of the ways the food sector has changed through its ownership of Mayo Foods Ltd., the Mayo grocery store owned by NNDDC, and its work as a camp services provider to local industrial and mining projects.

“We’re uniquely positioned through Mayo Foods, where we’re an independently owned and operated northern grocery store,” she said. That means the corporation doesn’t get the same kind of access it would get as part of a larger chain or conglomerate.

“We have a keen eye for what is happening,” Djokic said. In the last year, that’s included much higher freight rates to get groceries to Mayo. “One-hundred per cent of the risk is being downloaded onto the store owner.”

Djokic said she’s also concerned about the impact of the distance that trucks have to travel up the highway from the south. Not only does that have implications as far as climate change and the environment, but she said it’s also unreliable. Highways wash out. Fires mean trucks can’t get through. Investing in the ability of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun citizens to grow their own food is one way of counteracting some of the risk associated with that, said Djokic.

It’s one of the ways the NNDDC can work toward food sovereignty — another major pillar of the corporation’s business plan.

Because people need food to survive, giving those people control of those systems is what Djokic calls “one small part of a very complex food sovereignty landscape.”

“We’re doing what we can to put that ownership and self-determination back in the hands of community members and of nations,” she said.

She said NNDDC won’t solve the total problem with this acquisition, but that the move is an example of working within its means on what it can control.

That includes getting more deeply involved in a company that allows communities to dictate the designs of the hydroponic units to suit their needs.

“The units are designed directly with the customer and built to determine solutions to support communities larger food systems including processing, storage, ongoing training and capacity development, and food production,” reads NNDDC’s release about the acquisition.

“This means that the Indigenous communities served are able to use the technology to grow nutritious foods that are culturally relevant, such as beets, carrots, potatoes, peppers, and sage, and other herbs. Food sovereignty is about more than access to food, it’s about equitable access to quality, culturally relevant, and wanted food.”

Another way to ensure sustainability is for ColdAcre to continue to offer training on its units in Whitehorse, said Tarek Bos, CEO of ColdAcre. (Going forward, NNDDC will work alongside previous managing owners, Bos and Solvest Inc.).

“We want [communities] to skip all the hard lessons we had to learn and get them right into ability to produce right away,” Bos said.

He said one of the reasons for that is because hydroponic food production in Canada sometimes fails due to capacity issues — the person who had all the training and knowledge leaves the position without passing it on.

ColdAcre provides three years of full support after purchase of a unit, covering everything from how to operate the unit, to marketing, sales and packaging.

It really depends on how a community plans to use a unit, he said.

“A core value for us is developing communities and working with them rather than telling them what they want […] it feels improper to land a unit and have ColdAcre be the manager.”

This way, communities and First Nations can decide whether they want to use a unit to support a business like Mayo Foods Inc., or process wild game and fish. They will be employing their citizens how they choose — whether that’s a few full-time staff or a mix of part-time teens working with part-time elders.

Contact Amy Kenny at