Healthy Food

Rising food costs affect the ability to purchase nutritious food in remote Manitoba communities – Winnipeg

For Manitobans in northern and remote communities, accessing affordable, nutritious food is a constant challenge.

Food prices for even basic items can be several times higher than what they would cost in a larger centre. It’s also more difficult to get fresh food up north; travel time and transportation costs drive up the prices even further.

It’s a problem Chief Elwood Zastre of Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation knows well. Even though the community isn’t as isolated as some, Zastre says people there are struggling to keep up food prices.

“The costs to bring it to the community have increased very much,” he said. “Our people suffer from that.”

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There’s a small shop in Wuskwi Sipihk, but Zastre says many people from Wuskwi Sipihk grocery shop at a larger supermarket in Swan River, about 60 kilometers away. Each trip to the grocery store means an extra $40 spent on fuel, further limiting what people can buy. Zastre says some community members on Employment and Income Assistance live on $270 per month, and most employment opportunities in the area require a vehicle.

“You get a four-litre jug of milk, it costs so much, people will turn to Pepsi or something cheaper,” Zastre said, adding it’s affecting the health of people in the community.

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For Manitobans who rely on food banks, options can be limited, too. Meaghan Erbus with Harvest Manitoba says shipping fresh food to fly-in communities is cost-prohibitive for the non-profit organization.

“A can of juice mix would be an astronomical price because of the weight of that,” Erbus said.

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Harvest Manitoba distributes fresh fruits and vegetables to its food bank locations in the city, but sticks to lighter items, like powdered soup mix, for remote communities.

“There are Nutrition North programs, there are programs that subsidize some of these items, but not all of them,” Erbus said. “So I think part of it is about choice, and having the ability to choose what you want to eat, and so there’s limited choice in that manner.”

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Zastre hopes to bring some of that choice back to the people in Wuskwi Sipihk. Hunting and fishing are popular, and Zastre says local food production will help his community immensely.

Zastre says he met with a company that makes greenhouses built for use year-round. He hopes to bring one to his community.

“I saw one and I was so surprised. It’s amazing how that could help you,” he said.

Zastre says the local community gardens are a good source of fresh, healthy food, but having a place to store food will allow them to expand.

“We’re looking for places where we could store our meat and fish, and grow our own vegetables because everything is going so high,” he said.

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He calls localizing food production “the way of the future” – it’s a must if his community is to thrive.

“We look forward to working like that, which is a good way,” he said. “It’s healthy for us.”

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