Affordable food co-operative thriving

by Michele LeTourneau- November 11, 2017

What began in 2014 as an effort by five core volunteers to bring fresh, high-quality and affordable produce to the capital is now a newly incorporated community cooperative with several projects on the go.

 

IqaluEAT’s farmers’ markets have consistently sold out in less than two hours since August 2014. The group is now officially incorporated as a co-operative and held its first AGM Nov. 6.
photo courtesy Francois Fortin

 

IqaluEAT held its first annual general meeting the evening of Nov. 6, with the original team of five – Michel Potvin, Francois Fortin, David MacDonald, Catherine Couture and Christina Rooney – reporting on successes, projects in progress and dreams for the future.

MacDonald laid out the success of the farmers’ markets since the first was held in August 2014.

In total, IqaluEAT has held 11 markets, in spring, summer and fall. Items have included fresh fruits and vegetables, primarily from Ontario and Quebec, and specialty products such as Quebec artisanal cheeses, baguettes and breads, maple syrup, dried sausages, oils and vinegars, and spices.

“For market one, we had 500 kgs and sold out in 55 minutes. Market 11, we moved up all the way up to 2,700 kgs and we sold out in 90 minutes. On average, the markets are held between 1:30 and 3:30, and by that time everything’s gone,” MacDonald said.

The organization considers as its strengths its volunteers, its relationships with southern suppliers, and local partnerships with Carrefour Nunavut, the Royal Canadian Legion and Nunavut Moving and Services.

Potvin explained IqaluEAT has not received any funding from government, and it currently has approximately $5000 in an account.

“Northern Shopper fronts all the money, and we assume all the liability. We’re personally assuming all the risk,” he said.

“We’ve been extremely lucky and managed to make things work each time.”

“We work with Northern Shopper, a southern partner, because they can better shop and develop partnerships with local food suppliers and producers, because they have a good relationship and understanding with the airlines, and because they qualify for the Nutrition North subsidy,” explained Fortin.

MacDonald also noted, along with the Legion providing the location for the markets, Nunavut Moving and Services has been helpful.

“They really helped us a lot with the transportation of everything from First Air Cargo right over to wherever our market was happening,” he said.
Markets have also been held at the curling rink, and originally at Nakasuk School.

Challenges include lack of board members, limited venues available to hold markets – November’s had to be cancelled due to lack of a space – and the lack of funding. The new cooperative is working on all these challenges, and that Monday night the co-op acclaimed 10 board members. They will get together in the next couple of weeks to elect an executive.
A second project, the Healthy Food Box, is underway. Thirty Iqaluit households participated in a six-week pilot programme this summer.

“We didn’t really advertise it. We just emailed our regular mailing list,” said Potvin. “Basically, it was every second week a box of fruit and vegetables.”

Two options were provided: a regular box for $50 and a family box for $80 – which could be picked up at the Qajuqturvik Food Centre. Participants filled out three surveys, which showed the project to be successful.

“The main object of the Iqaluit Food Co-op is to provide access to affordable, fresh and high-quality food products, so we basically measured stats against the Healthy Food Box project,” said Potvin, adding if a product was offered locally on sale the night before delivery, that’s the price IqaluEAT measured against.
The 17 regular-box participants, paying $150 over six weeks instead of $216.39, saved $66.39, or 31 per cent. The 13 family-box participants, paying $240 instead of $365.33, saved $125.33 or 34 per cent.

Of the respondents, 91 per cent described the food as affordable and fresh, and 94 per cent agreed the quality of the produce was of superior quality to locally available produce, said Potvin.

Continuing their slow and steady approach, IqaluEAT will launch the Healthy Food Box project in the next few weeks, with a monthly distribution planned for December to March, then starting the twice-a-month program in May. A market is planned for April. And to help get the manpower behind these plans, a volunteer drive is scheduled to begin in January.

IqaluEAT is also working on getting involved with a project called The Growcer, which is a hydroponic system in a sea can producing fresh foods year-round.

The co-op will also be seeking government funding to further enhance its work.

Above all, said Potvin and Fortin, IqaluEAT is intended to be community-centred, and plans to forge more partnerships.

 

FACT FILE

IqaluEAT by the numbers

 

20,305: kilograms of fresh produce and specialty products sold at farmers’ markets (or 20 tonnes)

3,000: market attendees (300 on average per market)

220: volunteers (average of 20 per market)

2,000+: community volunteer hours to produce the markets since 2014

$0: amount received from the Government of Nunavut or the Government of Canada

source: IqaluEAT Food Cooperative Ltd.

 

FACT FILE

IqaluEAT Healthy Food Box savings

 

– Regular box: 31 per cent savings over six weeks – $150 for fresh food instead of $216.39

– Family box: 34 per cent savings over six weeks – $240 for fresh food instead of $365.33

source: IqaluEAT Food Cooperative Ltd.

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