With Six Nations people spending about $40 million a year on groceries and the massive rise in food costs in the past few years, the food sustainability project by the Six Nations Farmer’s Association is coming at a pertinent time.
Food insecurity becoming a major world issue, said Ruby Jacobs, Six Nations Farmer’s Association secretary, pointing to all the political unrest currently taking place around the world and the shift from agriculture towards technology.
The situation has the aging farmer’s association members concerned, many of whom are looking to retire, and with the prospect of food security becoming a major issue during the pandemic in the past three years, the food sustainability project is more needed than ever.
It would entail the building of an agricultural resource centre and retail food space totalling about 13,000 sq. Feet and costing about $5.6 million.
The indoor start-up costs would be over $3 million alone, said Jacobs.
The goal is to create a community-owned food sustainability program and revitalize agriculture in the community.
Farming is decreasing across the country, said Jacobs.
Most people today don’t even know how to get onto a tractor, she told Six Nations elected council at a general finance meeting on Monday.
The current crop of Six Nations farmers are worried there won’t be any farming in the community in the future. There are only about 15 farmers on Six Nations.
Jacobs says they conducted a study that showed the average family spends $400 a week on groceries. Multiply that by 52 weeks, and that’s $20,000 per year, per family.
Multiply that by the estimated 2,000 households on Six Nations (according to the Farmers Association), and that’s about $40 million a year leaving the community every year on food/groceries.
“That’s a huge amount of money going out of the community,” said Jacobs.
Federal statistics show it costs a family of four to feed their family about $16,000 a year in 2023 in Canada. That’s compared to the $14,000 per year average grocery bill for a family of four in Canada only two years ago, in 2021.
The food sustainability project is looking to provide food to the community on a constant basis, said Jacobs.
Six Nations has one privately-owned grocery store but the food sustainability program would be community-owned, said Jacobs.
The farming resource centre would help people learn how to grow food.
And if people had extra produce available from their own gardens, they could sell it to the grocery store and make a few bucks, said Jacobs.
“It would be more like a farm centre grocery store. The goal is to have a grocery store that would service the community all year-round.”
The food sustainability task force was established in 2021. They have a constitution, policies and procedures, and are a registered not-for-profit with the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency).
Jacobs admits farming is hard work but it pays off by providing food year-round, especially if the food is preserved.
A local farmer’s market would fulfill a number of purposes, including providing locally-grown, healthful food, employment, and an outlet for local citizens to spend their money as opposed to buying off-reserve, said Jacobs.
The farmer’s association is still seeking about 10 acres of land to locate the centre.
One private citizen has offered to sell some land on Third Line.
Proposed annual sales are projected at $3.2 million.
Art Porter, a long-time Six Nations farmer, said all the food sold at the retail centre would be grown as organically as possible, without chemicals, or pesticides or herbicides.
“We try to keep everything natural.”
They assured council the food would be affordable and they’d even have a senior’s discount day one day per week.
“We know the cost of living is going up every day,” said Porter. “It’s a struggle for us old-timers.”
Coun. Audrey Powless-Bomberry mentioned that the cost of produce is so high, Six Nations people are turning to cheaper, high-carbohydrate alternatives to keep themselves fed.
“That’s not good for our diabetes on Six Nations,” she said.
Jacobs said she realizes it’s a “huge” idea and she may be a little idealistic in her desire to see food self-sufficiency on Six Nations but it’s something she’s passionate about.
“We really have to have this for our folks to survive.”