A worker at Yukon Gardens prunes tomato plants in Whitehorse on July 15. The City of Whitehorse recently released a draft of its Local Food Urban Agriculture Study, which is open to public comment until Sept. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Draft report looks at growing food security in Whitehorse

The public can comment on the draft agriculture study until Sept. 21

The City of Whitehorse could take on a larger role in supporting local food production in the future as it moves towards wrapping up a study focused on just that.

A draft of the city’s Local Food & Urban Agriculture Study was released Aug. 21 and is open to public comment until Sept. 21. It’s expected the final study will be finished and released in October.

It has been in the works since 2016 with a number of surveys, interviews and focus groups (pre-COVID) held to come up with a 10-year plan detailing nearly 70 actions the city could take in moving the community towards greater food security.

In an Aug. 24 interview, city planner Erica Beasley said when the project got underway in 2016 officials didn’t realize the scope involved. As efforts continued though it was learned just how connected the city is to local food production and more work was needed for the effort, creating a project that took longer than originally envisioned.

She said there could be many positive outcomes from the study.

While many of the actions are smaller efforts, Beasley said together they could lead to overall greater food security.

Actions to deal with production, wild harvesting, processing and preservation, distribution and retailing, nutrient support, consumption and resource recovery efforts are outlined for topics ranging from hens to community gardens to food vending and compost, among others. Efforts in food production make up the bulk of the action items, largely due to the city’s role in designating land use.

“One of the biggest challenges is producing locally,” she said.

Among the efforts that could improve that is looking at the possibility of expanding designated agricultural land in the city, with only two areas currently designated within city limits.

Part of that work would also include working with other governments to assess soil suitability in some areas that may have potential for agricultural land.

“Soil suitability is important,” Beasley said, adding land tenure and servicing of land would also need to be considered.

Beasley also highlighted the proposal to explore zoning regulations for indoor commercial agriculture.

While there are currently two commercial producers in the city that have indoor facilities under a more general commercial zone, ideally a specific set of regulations would be in place.

“It would provide clarity and more certainty,” Beasley said.

A number of other actions focus on specific topics such as measures that could lead to more community gardens and greenhouses in the city. The study calls for a land inventory to identify potential locations for community gardens as well as the development of a policy specifically for community gardens. Other measures would allow for greenhouses in amenity spaces of multi-residential developments, exploring options for installing water connections to parks and other such spaces when doing infrastructure work and encouraging the development of private community gardens in places like multi-residential developments, schools, care facilities and the like.

Allowing residents to keep livestock is highlighted as an opportunity to produce food and fertilizer with a long list of actions around that. Among those would be a review of development regulations and permit applications for chicken coops; consideration for permitting honey bee hives and what zones they may be permitted in; looking at the possibility of electric fence requirements for chicken coops and bee hives in country residential neighbourhoods; and considering the maximum numbers of livestock that will be allowed on country residential properties.

Other actions could provide more allowances for rooftop gardens, review yard maintenance standards related to food production on private property, a review of options for a city-wide ban on the use of non-essential pesticides and promoting the benefits of buying and consuming local food among many more.

The draft study is available at www.whitehorse.ca/localfood. Public input received up to Sept. 21 will be considered for revisions. The final document, expected to be finished in October, will be one of many city studies used to inform the city’s next Official Community Plan.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com