Rising food prices nothing new for Manitobans living in the north

Experiencing some sticker shock in the grocery store? You’re not alone.

Families spent an average of $325 more on food in 2015 than a year earlier. Over this coming year, a report from the University of Guelph says households can anticipate another similar increase to their grocery bill.  

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What is even more alarming is that fruits and vegetables, the cornerstones of a healthy diet, are the foods most vulnerable to currency fluctuation as 81 per cent of all vegetable and fruits consumed in Canada are imported. 

This impacts the ability of many Manitobans to access healthy foods. People are forced to make difficult decisions as they try to stretch their grocery budget.  

Yet high food prices are nothing new to Northern Manitobans.  

In Manitoba’s urban centres, a family of four spends an average of $8,000 on food every year.  The same groceries would cost $14,300 in Fox Lake Cree Nation and a whopping $23,296 in Shamattawa.  

And the price of groceries isn’t the only barrier that Manitobans living in the north face in getting healthy, affordable food. 

Many northern communities, like Fox Lake Cree Nation, don’t have a grocery store of their own. Residents have to make the 45-minute drive to Gillam to pick up most food items. 

Despite, or perhaps because of, these challenges Northern Manitobans are reclaiming food skills essential for building healthy futures. 

In South Indian Lake, a community of almost 800 people located over a six-and-a-half-hour drive north of Thompson, a country food program supports wild food gathering activities such as hunting, fishing and medicine harvesting. The program provides food for elders, single parents and low-income community members. In addition, the program employs high school students, helping them to gain the tools and resources needed to access their own good food. 

The country food program in South Indian Lake is just one example of how communities across Manitoba’s north are facing the challenge of accessing food. 

At Food Matters Manitoba we believe all Manitobans deserve a chance to get the healthy food they need. We are partnering with communities to make sure everyone can get the good food they deserve. Together, we are making food more available and affordable with local gardens and greenhouses and teaching kids and families how to prepare healthy meals at community cooking classes. 

Kids from Shamattawa are getting their hands in the dirt and learning how to grow their own food. By learning to garden, community members learn new skills and gain a healthy and affordable way of getting food. 

Families living in Sherridon are raising their own chickens both for meat and eggs. They’re looking for new ways to get healthy meat and learn new skills.

And hunters in Lac Brochet distribute traditional food to elders and families in need. They store their fish, caribou and berries in a community freezer.

We believe that together we can make Manitoba a healthier place, where everyone has good food. 

Rising prices can be a reminder to all of us that many Manitobans struggle to access the healthy foods that they need, especially in regions of our province paying two or three times as much for food.  

To learn more about Food Matters Manitoba and our community-based good food work in northern Manitoba, visit foodmattersmanitoba.ca.

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